Review by Camden Ferrell
Movies like Honey Boy don’t come around very often. They are films told with such candor and ambition that you can’t help but be swept off of your feet. Directed by Alma Har’el, this film premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. This film is a perfect portrayal of childhood trauma that is as painful as it is utterly beautiful.
Written by Shia LaBeouf (The Peanut Butter Falcon) as a part of his therapy while he was in rehab, this story is brutal and full of candor. The film is based on LaBeouf’s childhood and follows Otis Lort as he deals with his childhood and his relationship with his abusive father. It’s a very personal premise that gives this film an emotional core unlike any other film this year.
It’s written in a way that makes it feel realistic, not cinematic. It’s not full of cleverly structured dialogue and verbal payoffs. It revels in its ability to recreate life as it is, not what it wants to be. The dialogue is sharp, realistic, and very wise. The script is written with an emotional maturity and clarity that could have only been achieved by someone like LaBeouf. It’s a testament to his skills as a writer and as an effective storyteller.
The acting in this film is superb. Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place) plays Otis as a child actor. Jupe gives an unbelievably powerful performance. He handles the intense and mature subject matter masterfully. It is a deeply resonant and affecting performance that is rivaled by few this year. It may very well be one of the best child performances ever seen on film. Lucas Hedges (Boy Erased) plays Otis as a troubled adult. We see him deal with the fallout of his childhood and how it has shaped him into the problematic and damaged person he is. Hedges gracefully shows us the frustration and struggle that comes with healing and acceptance. It’s hard to watch because of how real it feels to everyone watching.
However, the standout performance is from LaBeouf himself. He plays Otis’s father in the film. LaBeouf gives the year’s best performance as an abusive and troubled father. He doesn’t play the character negatively. He shows the father for who he is, a flawed individual who unhealthily deals with his feelings of frustration, regret, and anger. We never hate his character at any point, but we are shocked and hurt by his actions just like Otis is. LaBeouf’s portrayal of his own father is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s raw, furious, and emotionally draining.
This is one of those movies that tears you apart on the inside only to build you up again slowly. The problem is, like the film’s characters, you don’t truly feel whole again. It’s a painful and powerful journey that Har’el takes you on throughout the movie’s brief runtime. The film doesn’t waste a single second in telling this remarkable story of trauma, acceptance, and forgiveness.
Har’el’s direction, LaBeouf’s script, stellar cinematography, and a great soundtrack make this film a well-rounded and essential piece of modern cinema. As it cuts back between its two time periods, we are reminded not of the characters’ ability to hate, but of their ability to love and be loved. It’s an emotionally complex concept that the movie conveys very well. There is so much resonance and power in the way the film is told that it will bring you to tears if you let it.
Honey Boy is one of the best films this year. It is unlike anything you have ever seen. It’s a highly personal and emotional experience that is cathartic and awe-inspiring. It’s a triumph in writing, directing, and especially acting. It’s emotionally draining, but it needs to be seen.
Honey Boy is playing in theaters now.