A unique portrayal of forgiveness
Honey Boy (2019): A young actor's stormy childhood and early adult years as he struggles to reconcile with his father and deal with his mental health.
Rarely does a film come around with the rawness of something like Honey Boy. The passionate, reconciliatory brain child of Shia LaBeouf and Alma Har'el, Honey Boy approaches its primary subject, forgiveness, in one of the most unique ways I've ever seen. While it doesn't always work - the unpolished edges can lead to some rather distracting / incomprehensible moments - the end product is nonetheless emotional, purgative, and alluring.
Honey Boy is the feature debut of both director Har'el and screenwriter LaBeouf. LaBeouf also places himself in front of the camera (a position he's certainly used to by now) and plays James Lort, a stand-in for Shia's own father, Jeffrey Craig LaBeouf. Portraying Otis, the stand-in for Shia LaBeouf, is Noah Jupe as a kid and Lucas Hedges as a 20ish year-old grappling with the effects James left on him as a kid. It's a rather hard film to summarize, other than to say it's about anger, coping, and forgiveness, but the parallels shown between each storyline go a long way to conveying traumatic events and how one grapples with them while simultaneously trying to forgive the person responsible. It's a fine line to try and ride that Har'el does a fairly great job with.
Let's talk about forgiveness for a moment. So many films portray this complicated subject in black and white terms. A singular moment in a film where the main character realizes the errors of their ways, delivers a touching monologue, and all is forgiven. Rarely does it work that way in real life, and this is exactly how Honey Boy tries to tackle the subject. James Lort is a wildly flawed, yet somewhat relatable character who is despicable on the surface. Yet, despite his (at times) heinous actions, Otis continues to follow him because he genuinely loves him and cares for him. We all have that person who's hurt us, emotionally or physically, that we need to search the inner dimensions of our own feelings to forgive because we know that's the only way to truly move on and grow as a human being. While, at times, Lort amplifies these misdeeds for cinematic effect, (and the message become somewhat incomprehensible because of it) the end result is still identifiable and personable to the viewer. It also helps that the man playing him, Shia LaBeouf, delivers one of the best performances of the year. A raw, emotional, unnerving turn that was clearly therapeutic for the real life man who's been around the business his entire life. Love love love.
We also need to talk about Otis. This character is played effectively by both Noah Jupe (definitely the child actor performance of the year) and Lucas Hedges, (who does a great Shia LaBeouf impression, and I loved it, too) and almost acts as a vehicle for the viewer to place themselves in this role. I absolutely love this character. He's written so well by LaBeouf. It's clearly himself, but he writes the character in a way that makes him ascribable for the audience. The viewer can easily channel himself through the young Otis, (Jupe) which makes the older Otis's (Hedges) path to forgiveness with his father that much more identifiable.
I know I keep returning to the topic of forgiveness, but that's what makes Honey Boy so great! Sure, sometimes the visuals are….. distracting, and the hand cam isn't always welcome, (seriously, you don't need hand cam in every scene!) but how this film approaches forgiveness and coping with one's past actions is so wonderful. James Lort, on the surface, is a terrible human being. He commits abusive atrocities on Otis that (understandably) lead to his drinking / ultimate PTSD. And yet…. You feel for Lort. You see his insecurities play out in screen. You see his unwavering drive to see his son succeed. You see how Otis follows in his footsteps and how Lort influences him, both good and bad. While the filmmaking is distracting and overproduced at times, this message is applicable to all demographics. If you're looking for an artsy film that is intimidating, yet approachable, look no further than Honey Boy.
My Number: 8/10
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