Honey Boy: A Deeply Affecting Act of Forgiveness
December 3, 2019 | By Audrey Wang, Illustrations by Danny Tran
Honey Boy is a deep, shuddering breath after a long cry.
An autobiographical film written by Shia LaBeouf about his own father, writer LaBeouf and director Alma Har’el weave a deeply personal story that flashes back and forth between a 12-year-old Otis (Noah Jupe) and a 22-year-old Otis (Lucas Hedges). Otis is a child actor and proxy for LaBeouf, and LaBeouf takes us through his formative childhood, his relationship with his dad, and the journey he went through to get to where he is today.
Illustrations by Danny Tran
As a child, Otis is wise beyond his years and has to juggle strict acting schedules while avoiding emotional and physical abuse from his dad, James Lort (Shia LaBeouf). Lort is a retired rodeo clown dreadfully masking his jealousy and shame from his own son. In many ways, 12-year-old Otis is the adult in their father-son relationship. Otis pays the bills, wakes his dad up, and above all, tries to get his dad to be a father. As an adult, Otis is volatile and explosive. He gets put into rehab after totaling a car while drunk and must deal with the repercussions of both his childhood and his current state. In rehab, he works through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that he didn’t even know he had. Through multiple sessions with a therapist (Laura San Giacomo), he yells, writes, and chases chickens around to break out of the cycle of trauma and abuse he was born into. In a session, he states, “my dad isn’t the reason that I drink, he’s the reason that I work,” in a heartbreaking defense of his own father.
Illustrations by Danny Tran
It is liberating to watch LaBeouf write and act in such a film. This film is a deeply affecting act of forgiveness. LaBeouf is coming to terms with his father and his past. The story is profoundly personal and the film gets kicked up another notch with thoughtful performances. Hedges, as 22-year-old Otis, plays a young adult in crisis who wants to escape the ghosts of his past but doesn’t know how. In Otis’ younger years, the father-son dynamic by Jupe and LaBeouf is tender and phenomenal. At 14 years old, Jupe is wise beyond his years with the steely determination of a kid who just wants to be taken care of. His voice wavers at all the right points and holds his own when pitted against veteran actor LaBeouf, who goes from explosive rages to sudden, frightening calms. Their chemistry is astounding, especially in moments when they’re finally vulnerable with each other and not wearing the shields they so forcefully keep up.
Honey Boy weaves such a particular and poignant tale. The flashes back and forth through time are sometimes too short. Both worlds are so interesting that the viewer yearns to stay in them for longer. They’re scary worlds that paint a devastating, all too real coming-of-age story. The heartfelt performances, sheer steadfastness, and willpower of LaBeouf make this growing-pains story help all of us realize that we, too, are always growing, no matter our age.