Honey Boy: Film Review

You think you know Shia LaBeouf – given that he’s been in the spotlight since he was a child and has been in the headlines for his run-ins with the police in recent years – but when you watch his biographical film Honey Boy you’ll realise you had no idea.

This biopic was written by LaBeouf based on notes he wrote while in rehab and sent to his friend Alma Har’el, who directs. The film cuts between 2015, when Otis (Lucas Hedges) is in rehab following another drink-related arrest, and 1995, when younger Otis (Noah Jupe) is a busy and successful child star who lives with his father James (LaBeouf), who serves as his chaperone, in a motel somewhere in California.

This biopic isn’t some glory-seeking highlights reel of LaBeouf’s career, oh no, this is a hard-hitting, warts-and-all drama which reveals his tumultuous relationship with his father, a recovering addict and sex offender. Let’s put it this way – their relationship was not a loving one. We see a 12-year-old Shia (well, Otis) smoking, swearing, arguing and being psychologically – and sometimes physically – abused by his dad.

I just felt so sad and moved learning all this about his earlier life. I had no idea. It’s incredibly brave to reveal all this is in feature film form, never mind portraying a version of your own abusive father. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him to say those lines and recreate certain scenes. My heart just went out to him.

Needless to say, LaBeouf does a fantastic job portraying a troubled felon living off his son. It’s told from the boy’s perspective but you learn about his history and have some appreciation for why he is who he is. The three lead performances are all amazing but the star of the show is the adorable Jupe. I made note of his talent in Surburbicon and A Quiet Place and he truly levels up here, doing some really adult stuff for such a young boy. He displays such raw emotion, you just want to give him a hug. I would love to see him get awards recognition for this because he deserves it.

Hedges puts in a good performance as always but the heart of the film lies with the 1995 scenes. The rehab ones didn’t feel as developed and I didn’t connect with them as much emotionally. And I know the focus is on Otis and his dad but I would have loved more context about his mum and what happened between his parents. I just want to know more!

Honey Boy is a gritty, shocking film that resonates hours afterwards. LaBeouf deserves so much credit for having the courage to do this.

Seen during the 2019 London Film Festival. In cinemas from Friday 6th December 

Rating: 4/5

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