Honey Boy is probably unlike any film you’ve ever seen before. Autobiographical depictions of someone’s life generally devolve into vanity projects, but this film exists in its own world entirely. While not every element of the film works, it truly is something special.
Alma Ha’rel, indie director of films like Bombay Beach, leads this film with a sure hand and clear voice. She perfectly straddles the line between realism and surrealism, without ever losing the audience’s sense of place. She keeps the film moving along at a steady rate as well and gives the entire experience a nice sense of motion despite its time period jumping. The voice she gives this film is lively and satisfyingly surreal while leaving you excited to see what she does next.
Honey Boy follows the life of Otis Lort at two different points in his life, age 12 (Noah Jupe) and 22 (Lucas Hedges), and his relationship with his father, James (Shia LaBeouf). Otis is an aspiring (and eventually successful) actor, and James is his domineering, difficult, vice-addled father. However, that’s about as far as the plot for this movie goes. There is no real story to tell in the traditional sense, and instead the movie functions as a character study of two different people who are stuck together by blood. It does have a terrific final third that really brings everything together in a very satisfying way, and leaves things on a very positive note.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The main draw for Honey Boy is Shia LaBeouf playing a character inspired by his father, and he does not disappoint. He brings sleaziness, anger, and sorrow to his portrayal of James, a man who loves his son without knowing how to show it. It’s a nuanced and fascinating performance that is absolutely the highlight of his career thus far. However, Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges are also both phenomenal as Otis at two different points in his life. Jupe in particular is a revelation, bringing maturity beyond his years to a difficult role. The acting in this film is exceptional.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
This film has one of the most experimental scores of the year, without a doubt. With drumwork reminiscent of Birdman’s iconic score and some more ambient pieces, the score really helps sell the heightened atmosphere of the film.
This film is a case of “less is more” when it comes to design. There’s nothing flashy here, but the costumes and sets are immersive. There is some makeup work in the film’s surreal final act that really help contribute to the tone as well. Everything on screen works to convey a time and place.
Honey Boy is a film that will sit with you for a long time. Though there’s no real plot to speak of, the outstanding character work and script elevate it to something more. It’s less of a story and more of a way for LaBeouf to channel and reach his father. It’s an act of forgiveness, and one that should be experienced.