Shia LaBeouf

The Peanut Butter Falcon

03/04/20

Curzon Home Cinema

One of the most interesting actorly transformations of recent years is the one undertaken by Shia LaBeouf. Formally regarded as a bit of a twonk about town, he recently delivered the excellent Honey Boy, the film he wrote whilst undergoing rehab – and now here’s another winner, in the shape of The Peanut Butter Falcon, an appealing buddy movie set in the wetlands of North Carolina, though in this case, the writing duties are handled by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, who also co-direct,

La Beouf plays Tyler, who – since the death of his much-loved older brother – is eking a precarious living as a crab fisherman. Tyler isn’t too fussy about occasionally robbing the traps of his more successful neighbours and this inevitably leads him into violent conflict with them. He’s soon obliged to go on the run from those he has crossed swords with.

But his escape bid coincides with that of runaway, Zak (Zack Gottsagen), who has managed to escape from the care home where he has been unfairly sequestered for far too long. Zak is a young man with Downs Syndrome.  There’s nobody else prepared to take charge of him, but he is understandably bewildered to be locked up with old age pensioners like his friend, Carl (Bruce Dern). Zak is also obsessed with a series of old videos featuring his longtime wrestling hero, Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Hayden Church), and he’s determined to make his way to the man’s ‘wrestling school’ to meet him in person.

At first Tyler and Zak make for uncomfortable travelling companions but, as they progress across the waterlogged landscapes of their homeland, an appealing ‘chalk and cheese’ friendship begins to develop. It’s not long before Tyler is fuelling Zak’s ambition to be a professional wrestler, even coming up with the titular nickname for his intended career. But somebody is looking for Zak. Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), the carer formally charged with looking after him, has been told, in no uncertain terms, to find him and bring him back to face further incarceration…

This is a charming and affectionate film, which, though it occasionally strays uncomfortably close to schmaltz, nonetheless carries its powerful central message with considerable aplomb. Gottsagen is an assured performer and so is La Beouf, for that matter, though his deep Southern-fried accent occasionally has me wishing that Curzon Home Cinema offered the option of subtitles for English language features (something they’re still working on).

Niggles aside, this is a delightful, heartwarming tale. We missed it’s recent cinematic release and here’s a welcome opportunity to catch up with it.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Film Bouquets 2019

Bouquets&Brickbats

Bouquets&Brickbats

Bouquets&Brickbats

It’s that time again when we award (virtual) bouquets to our favourite films of the year. As ever, the final choice may not always reflect the films that scored the highest at time of viewing, but rather those that have stayed with us most indelibly.

The Favourite (director – Yorgos Lanthimos; writers – Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara)

Capernaum (director – Nadine Labaki; writers – Nadine Labaki, Jihad Hojeily and Michelle Keserwany)

Eighth Grade (writer/director – Bo Burnham)

Booksmart (director – Olivia Wilde; writers – Emily Halperm, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman)

Beats (director – Brian Welsh; writer – Kieran Hurley)

Rocketman (director – Dexter Fletcher; writer – Lee Hall)

Animals (director – Sophie Hyde; writer – Emma Jane Unsworth)

Hustlers (director – Lorene Scafaria; writers – Lorene Scafaria and Jessica Pressler)

Joker (director – Todd Phillips; writers – Todd Phillips and Scott Silver)

Monos (director – Alejandro Landes; writers – Alejandro Landes and Alexis Dos Santos)

Honey Boy (director – Alma Har’el; writer – Shia LaBeouf)

Little Women (director – Greta Gerwig; writers – Greta Gerwig and Louisa May Alcott)

 

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

 

 

 

 

Honey Boy

24/11/19

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.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney