This semi-autobiographical tale, written by Shia LaBeouf and directed by Alma Har’el, is clearly the actor’s attempt to exorcise the demons of a troubled relationship with his father, though he’s wisely changed the names of the protagonists. We first meet ‘Otis’ (Lucas Hedges) in 2017, when he’s pursuing a hectic schedule as a movie actor, and abusing drugs and alcohol on a daily basis. When everything spins out of control and he’s involved in an alcohol-fuelled car crash, he’s faced with a stark choice: go into rehab for the PSTD he’s suffering from, or face a four year stretch in jail.
Naturally, he chooses the former option.
From here the film cuts back in time to find Otis, at the age of twelve (and played by Noah Jupe), already working in television. He’s living in a seedy motel with his father, James (LaBeouf), who is a Vietnam veteran, a former rodeo clown and a convicted felon. It’s James’ job to chaperone Otis: make sure turns up for work every morning; go over his lines with him; and try to ensure that his son stays on the straight and narrow. But it’s evident from the word go that James is a pretty terrible example of fatherhood, and in no position to hand out advice to anyone. Indeed, he’s given to dark rages, which he takes out on the boy. As Otis bitterly observes, James is with him for one reason only, because he’s paid to be there.
Having estabished the two versions of Otis, the screenplay cuts nimbly back and forth between them, the twelve-year-old desperately searching for some kind of affection from his old man, the twenty-two-year-old still trying to deal with the messed-up psyche he’s inevitably been left with. Watching this, it’s little wonder that LaBeouf’s own career has been so incendiary. (The screenplay was actually written while he was in rehab.) If there were ever any doubts about the importance of nurture to a growing child, this film underscores its worth in thick black marker pen.
It’s frankly nobody’s idea of a jolly picture, but it’s brilliantly acted by all three of its leads, and Alma Har’el’s vivid, fragmentary style suits the subject admirably, particularly in the short dream sequences that punctuate events, and in which older Otis is still attempting to cross the void that lies between him and his father. While I’m never quite convinced that the angel-faced Noah Jupe could grow up to look like Lucas Hedges, this is a mere detail.
Honey Boy is a powerful, emotive story, expertly told.