Honey Boy Review The Buff and The Blazer
Honey Boy is another gem in a long list of standouts for 2019. Written by Shia LaBeouf, the film showcases not only his zeal for deep character examination but also the range of his acting craft. The intimate and deeply personal elements of Honey Boy are a result of its creation during difficult times for LaBeouf. Some of the greatest expressions of art are born out of moments like those. What comes across on screen is a film that is technically well crafted and emotionally impactful.
Honey Boy is a semi-autobiographical story based on Shia LaBeouf’s relationship with his father. The roots of the film trace back to 2017. That year, LaBeouf was arrested for public intoxication and ordered to 10 weeks of rehab. In rehab, he was diagnosed with PTSD and began writing the script for Honey Boy. Most of the script would have been re-tooled and solidified during those 10 weeks as filming began just 2 weeks after he left rehab.
It is hard to tell which scenes are biographical, fictional, or a combination of the two. Some articles have attempted to parse out the details, but they are less important since each scene offers an effective backdrop for the character’s emotional state. What we find in Honey Boy is an intimate portrait of a young boy’s relationship with his father. Those interactions set up the emotional toll taken by Otis (Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges).
We see how difficult the circumstances are for young Otis. One scene worth highlighting involves Otis’ father James and his mother who is on the phone. Otis acts as the middle person in a heated argument between the two. He relays everything his mom says on the phone to his dad word for word. Verbal shots are fired at a rapid pace with Otis directly in the line of fire.
The technical elements of the film also help to create an atmosphere of close intimacy between the characters and the audience. Director Alma Har’el brings her documentarian sensibilities to Honey Boy by immersing the audience into the drama of the characters. Scenes shot in motel rooms feel intimate and the movement of the camera is organic and intuitive. It feels as if you are sitting in the room with Otis and James. A mixture of organic camera movement and close-ups convey the emotions of the characters even when they don’t speak. Many of the scenes involving young or older Otis feature him alone. In these cases, the frame is essential for honing-in on their emotional states in the absence of dialogue.
The solid technical work in Honey Boy is easy to spot, but great performances by the actors drive the film into top territory. Noah Jupe as young Otis creates a nice balance of conveying emotional ware and strength. Scenes such as the one described above, display that balance. Lucas Hedges, on the other hand, delves deep into the tortured nature of Otis’ post-traumatic adult life. Both of them deliver deep performances that are never melodramatic. Each actor brings a unique sensibility to Otis that always feels like they are connected.
Shia LaBeouf as James Lort may be his best performance of all time. He delivers what is likely the most authentic nuances of his father in the character. The extent of his range is also very apparent as he pulls off subtle to extreme emotional states. Notable performances by FKA Twigs and Byron Bowers bring a grounded feel to the film.
All the elements above solidify Honey Boy as one of the best films of 2019.
Honey Boy is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
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