Written by and starring LeBeouf, “Honey Boy” is a deeply personal film based on the actor’s complicated relationship with his father. The title comes from a nickname given to the main character by his father. Said to have been created as part of LeBeouf’s therapy while in rehab, “Honey Boy” is difficult to watch, but ultimately worth the effort because of the exceptional performances and Alma Har’el’s stunning direction.
Traversing a 10-year period, from 1995 to 2005, “Honey Boy” tells the emotionally draining story of actor Otis at the ages of 12 and 22, rivetingly portrayed by Noah Jupe and queer actor Lucas Hedges respectively. We first encounter the adult Otis on the set of a disaster movie. In his trailer he drinks whiskey straight from the bottle and then gets the behind the wheel resulting in a horrible car crash and his third drunken altercation with the police.
(Honey Boy: Via Facebook)
Sent to rehab, again, Otis must make the necessary changes in his life or suffer the consequences. He tells therapist Dr. Moreno (Laura San Giacomo) that he’s an “ego maniac with an inferiority complex”, but she’s not putting up with any of his antics. As part of his recovery, she wants Otis to keep a journal and explore what led him to his current situation which includes PTSD.
As a child actor in 1995, Otis is achieving a degree of success and recognition. He lives in a rundown motel with his itinerant father James (LeBeouf), a veteran and felon who has four years of sobriety. James, who spends a lot of time reveling in his glory days as a rodeo clown, is Otis’ paid guardian, the only job he could get, as his son reminds him.
James is alternately abusive and affectionate. He doesn’t approve of Tom (Clifton Collins Jr.), a Big Brother mentor, who also looks after Otis’ well-being and has a violent interaction with him. James is equally cruel to Otis’ mother and the boy is caught in the fallout of his parents’ messy separation as depicted in the shocking motel room telephone scene.
Because he must be, young Otis becomes remarkably resourceful. He steals food from the film set for himself and James. He befriends a shy young woman (singer/songwriter FKA Twigs) who lives in the same motel complex who briefly becomes his only close companion.
There is little doubt that the negative impact James had on Otis played a part in the person he became. Otis thinks nothing of challenging and mocking rehab counselor Alec (Martin Starr) and acting out in other ways.
Additionally, James suffers from PTSD, not only from his time in Vietnam, but also from the abuse he suffered in his childhood. Therefore, it’s not all that surprising when he falls off the wagon after a particularly unpleasant interaction with Otis.
To reiterate, “Honey Boy” is not intended for the casual viewer. Its depiction of the father/son relationship is made even more agonizing knowing that it’s not only based on a true story, but one that LeBeouf himself survived.