Noah Jupe appears in Honeyboy by Alma Har'el, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Natasha Braier
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This time last year,
the mention of Shia LaBeouf’s name would have induced jeers, scoffs, and
meat-headed impressions of the controversial former child-star.
Once the driving
force behind the billion-dollar Transformersfilm
series, LaBeouf’s career had suffered at the hands of personal struggles that
had festered since he was a child. The manifestations of this grief, based on
his recent string of unruly behaviour, had provided the beloved action-star
with a reputation for being aggressive, violent, and difficult to work with.
While infamy hangs
over LaBeouf like a dark cloud, there is no denying the Disturbia actor is
a spirited artist longing for solace. Regardless of LaBeouf’s actions, his
willingness to process his demons is nothing short of admirable.
With Honey Boy, LaBeouf offers a deeply personal account of his turbulent relationship with his father, the lasting impact of this relationship throwing LaBeouf into a life of drug and alcohol abuse – his eventual assignment in rehab producing the film’s screenplay. It is a depiction that is as cathartic as it is confronting, with director Alma Har’el capturing with an empathetic, albeit hard-hitting, touch.
experiences of Otis ‘Honey Boy’ Lort (the change in the name being perhaps
LaBeouf’s only delineation from reality) from a budding child-actor to an
early-twenties Hollywood star assigned into rehab, Har’el empowers Honey Boy’s
framing to connect the trauma of childhood with the grief of adulthood. The
performances for which are drawn out impeccably by Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges,
with both young leads churning out confronting portrayals of lost youth.
LaBeouf’s decision to
portray his abusive father, James Lort, is a gutsy choice that requires him to
relive devastating childhood trauma. It is a feat that too easily could this
verged into exploitative, poverty-porn territory had Honey Boy been
developed by LaBeouf as a means of collecting audience sympathy. This is not
the case. LaBeouf’s risky decision pays off, with his casting imbuing the film
with a sense of profound authenticity, creating a face for the hardships that
LaBeouf lived through.
of James, a Southern-fried former rodeo-clown with a history of transgressions,
denotes the harmful manner abuse rears its ugly head an as ongoing stream of
mistreatment. James is fiery, controlling, and not without his cognisance to
how the world sees him as lesser. James believes his brand of ‘tough love’, the
likes of which he administers with a passive rage, will prevent his son from
being disposed of to the fringes of society – a treatment he is all too
Though reliant on his
son as the main source of income (illegal side hustles aside), James is quick
to declare himself as the alpha in their relationship, with Otis often reduced
for his perceived lack of masculinity – even his urination sounding not manly
enough. This form of resentment extends to his relationship with his
ex-wife/Otis’ mother, whom he often subjects his son to lacerating gripes over
their complicated separation.
similarly touching turn in 2019’s The
Peanut Butter Falcon, LaBeouf has found his stride with modest budget
tales of self-actualisation that exist as a form of therapy for the infamous
performance artist. LaBeouf’s embodiment of this character is nothing short of
impressive, with his ability to evoke great pain, the likes of which only a
family could inflict, demanding the viewer to empathise with these troubled
of this artistry extends to Har’el’s direction, with the decorated director
integrating moments of surrealism to provide Honey Boy with an appropriate amount of an evocative sting. This is
most prominent when twelve-year-old Lort calls into question his father’s
neglect; often delivering the words he wishes to say to his father in a
fanciful state. Otis is a
boy longing for the presence of a reliable and supportive father. Har’el chooses not to inundate the
film with these moments, and carefully selects when to deliver these emotive
gut-punches to optimal effect.
Har’el does not limit this marginalisation and cycle of abuse to just the experiences of the Lorts. The manner whereby James and Otis find themselves in this cycle of disenfranchisement is one Har’el acknowledges as being a prevalent issue for black Americans. She achieves this in such an emotional yet subdued fashion that allows the storytelling to coherently present broader societal issues regarding class.
LaBeouf’s high-profile Hollywood downfall has been the fodder of Hollywood gossip-columns for the better part of the last decade. Often depicted as being petulant, dramatic, and pretentious, LaBeouf’s pain and rehabilitation through art have been the joke of tabloids who possess greater interest condemning celebrities at their lowest of lows. As fascinated by downfalls as Hollywood is with underdog stories of redemption, a troubling equilibrium of sorts, LaBeouf and Har’el prove the perfect pairing in this confronting introspective look at familial neglect.
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