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Sundance 2019 Film Review: “Honey Boy” (2019) ★★★★★


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Childhood trauma is the most dangerous thing that can develop into a severe PTSD, damage the mind, destroy the kid inside out and leave only broken pieces that cannot be put together. But then, there’s another fact that matters; sometimes the same pain can bring a logical closure, make the child stronger. It may not be normal, but unique enough to realize you can’t be who you are if not the past you wanted to leave behind. “Honey Boy” is both a tragic and a poetic film about a father-and-son relationship, how one abuses power and the other one absorbs it. But if not for those events, no matter how heartbreaking they were, today we would not have one of the greatest actors walking on earth – Shia LeBeouf.

“Honey Boy” is a deeply personal true story written by Shia LeBeouf and elegantly directed by Alma Har’El and follows a child actor named Otis Lort (Noah Jupe) who works hard on set while at home he struggles with his hard-drinking, sex offender father (Shia LeBeouf) who does everything he can to ruin the child’s life. The film offers a transitioning moment on how Otis as a child carries the pain caused by his father into his adulthood making the suffering his only companion in life.

The film opens with an adult Otis who’s in the middle of filming an action scene. The next three minutes offers an image of a man who drinks alcohol, has uncontrollable attitude, anger issues, and has already had three altercations with the police. After ending up in rehab, his probation officer asks him to write an account of events that brought him to his current condition, as she diagnoses him with PTSD. In the next scene we are taken to 1995, when the young Otis is on set, filming, while at home his turbulent relationship with his father slowly makes him a troubled person as he gets older.

“I am here not because of my father”, shouts at his therapist and then continues, “my father was the reason I work.” And then we are taken back to when he’s 12-years-old. It’s sad watching his encounter with his parent when Otis, after a short emotional exchange, says, “You would not be here if I would not pay you.” We quickly learn that Otis pays to his father to stay with him. But the same father, who drinks, uses coarse language and has a terrible influence on his son demands perfection as an actor. He even tells him, if it’s necessary, we will stay up till the morning until you don’t learn your scene.

There’s a lot to grasp in “Honey Boy”. It’s heavy and as the story develops, becomes painful to watch. As we follow the father and son, the transitioning moment of life, and how Otis’ therapist tries to help him to get rid of the pain, it was this moment that will leave the entire audience stunned: “The only thing my father gave me that had value was pain. And now you want to take it away.” Otis, still in rehab, desperately tries to hang on to something that keeps him connected with his father, because apart from many other things, a slap is all that the boy was getting from his always drunk and demanding father.

As for performances, Noah Jupe as a young Otis who was planting the seed of trauma in his mind was absolutely terrific. Lucas Hedges delivers a laudable performance as a grown-up Otis who became the reflection of his father with the trauma he carried since being a child, and of course, Shia LeBeouf as the father who caused all that pain, but yet raises an actor known as Shia LeBeouf himself. Because let’s face it, no one would ever be able to write down the defining story of his life and portray his own father in the way Shia LeBeouf did. And that performance alone will shock you to the core due to its scary realism we wish to never happen.

 In the end, the beauty of this film is that it is not afraid to talk about vulnerability, a deeply profound relationship and that sometimes it’s a gift to be able to turn pain into a strength that only few can achieve. “Honey Boy” is much more than words can say. It’s more than the single mind can comprehend. But I guess calling it phenomenal is a good start. But please, feel free to come up with better words to describe how powerful it is. Because if anything, this film deserves endless praise it so rightly deserves.

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