Journaling about one’s feelings and traumatic past can be an effective form of therapy, but it can also be quite painful. “Honey Boy”, which began being written by Shia LaBeouf during a stint in rehab after a 2017 arrest, is the result of one man’s attempt to understand and cope with lifelong PTSD that had left him angry and lonely. In the film, LaBeouf stars as his own abusive, alcoholic father in what amounts to an autobiographical coming-of-age story based on experiences from his own childhood.
LaBeouf’s performance is nothing short of mesmerizing, and possibly his best acting work. He draws from memory to depict his father’s behavior at its worst, but also never demonizes him, allowing the audience to empathize through the conflicted and loving eyes of his son – a young version of LaBeouf named Otis, played by the talented Noah Jupe. Otis growing up a child star is shown to be incredibly challenging and complex for both parties, with the relationship between parent and child made particularly abnormal due to the younger providing financially for the elder. Jupe’s performance is every bit as memorable as LaBeouf’s, with him brilliantly showing us a child struggling to reconcile his desire for parental affection and attention against his need to be the adult of their relationship and keep his career moving forward.
Told in long periods of flashback while the current aged version of Otis (Lucas Hedges) is in rehab, “Honey Boy” tends to feel like a repetitive series of often uncomfortable, sometimes fantastical, and occasionally deeply intimate vignettes. Director Alma Har’el does a very good job of managing each individual scene, but its overall structure was a little hard to follow and the film comes to a rather sudden end that left the narrative feeling incomplete. “Honey Boy” is above all else earnest, though, and it’s easy to see how cathartic it likely was for its creator. It serves as a powerful examination of abusive parenting and the rehabilitative process but is not very enjoyable to watch and is so personal and specific that many viewers who can’t relate will simply forget about it soon after the credits roll.
Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.