Honey Boy: The BRWC Review

Honey Boy

Honey Boy: The BRWC Review. By Nick Boyd.

“Honey Boy,” based on actor Shia LaBeouf’s childhood, is a powerful coming-of-age look at living on the margins as a child actor with an emotionally abusive yet loving father.  In flashbacks to 1995, LaBeouf plays James, a version of his father, and Noah Jupe (in a remarkable performance) plays his 12-year-old son Otis.  Father and son (the mother is out of the picture) are living in a run-down motel in southern California as Otis, through his small parts in TV roles, is able to financially provide for the two of them, although it is a constant struggle. 

James is a very harsh and demanding father, at times resentful to be dependent on his son for support.  While James proclaims that he has been sober for four years, he regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and always seems on the verge of relapsing.  LaBeouf, with horn-rimmed glasses, long hair, and sloppy appearance, certainly looks the part, and this adds to the realism of the picture.

Young Otis, looking for guidance in his life, is able to find it in the Big Brother program in which he is enrolled.  That is where he meets Tom, someone that he looks up to.  Otis wants to go to a baseball game with Tom, but before doing so James invites him over for a barbecue to find out more about him.  As James senses that Tom seems to be getting too close to his son, that does not sit well with him and he reacts negatively. 

Then when James is not around, Otis turns to a young sex worker for warmth and comfort that his father is unable to provide.  The relationship of sorts they form is not exploitative and is in a way touching as this young woman is able to provide the comfort that Otis craves.

We get the sense through all the hours he has to put in for roles that do not amount to much and the living conditions he finds himself in that Otis has a compromised early adolescence, lacking any real joy or sense of fun.  

Scenes of the film taking place in 2005 feature Otis as an action movie star (played by Lucas Hedges), who is clearly battling internal demons.  We see him in his apartment downing a large quantity of alcohol and then in a later scene he gets into a car crash, having been under the influence.  This causes him to be arrested and placed in a mandated treatment facility.  He does not believe that he should be there and makes this known to his counselor, played by Laura San Giacomo

As a calming, understanding presence, Dr. Moreno slowly gets Otis to reveal the pain and hurt within.  Hedges is quite effective at showing all that he has had to deal with over the years, both in highly emotional as well as quieter scenes.  His character is able to evolve and eventually find some catharsis.

This very raw, personal movie is LaBeouf’s therapeutic attempt at healing his tumultuous father son relationship.  It is not an easy watch, but the deeply felt performances and the insights it provides, make it an experience worth having.

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