HONEY BOY, written by the actor Shia LeBeouf, is about his life as a child star and his time in rehab. He wrote the script in rehab after his therapist told him to write what he remembered from his childhood, after diagnosing him with PTSD.
LeBeouf is an interesting character. While his filmography is not very good, he nonetheless manages to be an enjoyable presence on screen. He is mainly known for Nickelodeon and Michael Bay action movies, several Transformers films, and for being arrested a number of times. Yet he has also done some interesting work, particularly Holes (2003 ) and Disturbia (2007 ).
Interestingly LeBeouf plays his own father in the film while Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe play LeBeouf at different ages. Both are excellent, while LeBeouf is just devastating as his father. His dad was his guardian on set and would routinely forget to pick him up, have outbursts on set that would embarrass LeBeouf, and his father would also try to pick up female assistants.
He was a rodeo clown in his youth and while pushing his failed aspirations into his son, he also constantly demeans him. Sometimes watching these very autobiographical films (eg, Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir and Noah Bambach’s A Marriage Story ) can feel like sitting in on a therapy session. This is not always a bad thing, but as this is a debut feature from director Alma Har’el and LeBeouf, it can feel a little self indulgent, yet some of its lack of polish adds to the film.
In its creation and presentation, it is one of the more interesting film experiences this year despite being a little uneven overall. LeBeouf is still in recovery and he has admitted already he is an unreliable narrator. The fact Shia is only 33 and his father is still alive makes it a brave choice and seems to have been very cathartic for him. He is not kind in his portrayal of his father and it makes the film uncomfortable but extremely engaging.
There is a humanity in the performance that offers a sliver of light to his dad, who was an army veteran and clearly struggles with plenty of his own demons, but overall it is a pretty damning exercise. I’m not sure I want to see more films like this, people cathartically acting out their own therapy sessions, but this is a truly unique film, and that means it is well worth a watch.