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Review: Honey Boy (Sundance)

Honey Boy (Sundance)
7 10

PLOT: A troubled movie star in rehab (Lucas Hedges) tries to come to terms with the way his dangerously unpredictable father (Shia LaBeouf) raised him as a child.

REVIEW: HONEY BOY is a gutsy undertaking for Shia LaBeouf. Known more nowadays for his off-screen antics rather than the star-quality that, in the mid-to-late 2000’s, had him marked as the next big thing, this film is a deeply personal journey into the demons that have lingered throughout his career. This isn’t surprising given his recent forays into performance art, which have often given the public unprecedented access to a guy who they still seem endlessly fascinated by.

Having written the film (Alma Har’el directs), LaBeouf doesn’t let himself off the hook easily. While Lucas Hedges doesn’t exactly play LaBeouf, going by the name Otis, right from the start its pretty obvious what’s going on, with us introduced to him on the set of a movie with obvious parallels to TRANSFORMERS, followed by a violent, drunken interlude that mangles his hand (similar to an accident he had on the second TRANSFORMERS) and ends with him mouthing-off to cops, something he’s been caught doing in the past.

It’s a pretty bold piece of self-analysis to put out, but it doesn’t end there. LaBeouf himself, in what may be an act of self-exorcism, actually plays his unpredictable, abusive father. Portrayed as a desperate former rodeo clown that’s a certified sex offender and unemployable, he lugs his child actor son (the great Noah Jupe) around from set to set, while pocketing his per diem and making them live in cheap motels where he lets his son smoke cigarettes and run wild.

LaBeouf is obviously angry, but also infuses the part with some empathy, including a somber moment where he confesses his sins to AA, although it’s immediately followed by a scene where his son complains about his dad’s inauthenticity and the fact that he repurposes other people’s stories as his own.

The fact is, even at his worst LaBeouf’s talent has never been in doubt. Maybe he’s had brushes with the law, but his recent work in AMERICAN HONEY, BORG VS MCENROE and now this proves his talent has never waned. While at times the film feels uncomfortably like a therapy session put on the big screen for all to see, LaBeouf didn’t go halfway with this, and even those who may not like HONEY BOY will have a hard time dismissing it or not appreciating the effort.

While a lot of the buzz leading up to the film was about Hedges in effect playing LaBeouf, his role is relatively minor. Rather, the guts of the film revolve around LaBeouf and Jupe, who’s so good at times you worry about his well-being, given the way the movie itself seems critical of the way child actors are forced to affect these adult personas while still children.

In the end, HONEY BOY may be a touch too self-reflexive to really connect in a big way but it’ll no doubt help put LaBeouf back on the map, with him still having the potential to be one of our great actors if he could get his demons under control. This is him trying to work towards that, making it pretty unique as far as big-screen star passion projects go.

Source: JoBlo.com

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