By Brennan Atkins
Arts & Features Editor
By Noah Barnes
“Honey Boy” is a 2019 drama film written by Hollywood sensation Shia LaBeouf, that follows the story of Otis, a child actor who has to deal with the struggles of growing up in the public eye all while being emotionally neglected by his father.
Otis, played by Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges, is a character whose creation is greatly influenced by Shia LaBeouf’s own childhood experiences and how he developed PTSD as a result of his acting career.
The movie, directed by Alma Har’el, is structured in a way that provides the audience with the full story of Otis’ life. The film opens with an older version of the actor (Hedges) in rehab, recollecting traumatic experiences from his past. Scenes including a younger Otis (Jupe) living at a motel with his deadbeat father are cut between these moments in rehab.
This is largely done to simulate what it may feel like to be triggered – as the older Otis thinks about his dad, scenes transition to emotionally scarring points in his life, as if the audience is experiencing PTSD alongside the protagonist. We are forced to relive all the uncomfortable interactions that made Otis the person he is today – a damaged man who struggles to find happiness due to his lack of a childhood.
In one scene, Otis is in rehabilitation and finds himself doing water exercises alongside other patients. The pool reminds Otis of a time in which his father threw his talent agent into the pool while cursing his family.
From a viewer’s perspective, James’ character feels completely unique in the cinematic world. LaBeouf masterfully plays his own neglectful father and it doesn’t feel like anything we’ve seen in a film before. There’s a level of tension added by this casting choice – LaBeouf playing his own neglectful father seems to add a personal layer behind his performance.
However, there are points in the film that show James to be a tolerable person. LaBeouf realizes his father isn’t perfect, and he constantly makes mistakes while raising Otis, but James is written in a way that will remind audiences of his human side.
LaBeouf makes sure to add in lighthearted moments between the two to show it isn’t all bad – just most of the time.
The dialogue featured in arguments between Otis and James are pure nightmare fuel – things no father should ever say to their kid, and a kid not being able to convey what he truly wants or needs.
In one instance, James asks Otis, with a crack in his voice, “How do you think it feels to have my son paying me?” in which Otis firmly replies, “You wouldn’t be here if I didn’t pay you.”
James is well aware he’s a horrible father, and he even manipulates Otis into thinking his abuse is actually helping him become “tougher” for Hollywood. The way James explodes with anger at Otis is similar to the way Otis blows up at his therapist – the director is playing with the idea that children learn how to handle aggression from their parents.
The music in the film is interesting to say the least – the sound of pots and pans clattering echo over soft piano notes, almost giving the soundtrack a nostalgic, dreamlike mood.
This is also reflected in the cinematography, which features colorful lens flares and transitions featuring soft colors washing over the whole screen.
While the film doesn’t focus on them too much, there are some weak side characters in the form of a romantic interest living in the motel, and Otis’ roommate while in rehab. It felt as if it took away from the pacing a bit, but it’s mostly harmless.
“Honey Boy” isn’t an apology from LaBeouf – it’s not made to besmirch or forgive his father. Rather, it’s LaBeouf releasing and reflecting his experiences, both good and bad, as well as coming to accept who he and his father are.
A gripping tale of neglect and trying to move on.