Combustible Celluloid
With: Shia LaBeouf, Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges, FKA Twigs, Laura San Giacomo, Maika Monroe, Clifton Collins Jr., Byron Bowers, Martin Starr, Natasha Lyonne
Written by: Shia LaBeouf
Directed by: Alma Har'el
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, some sexual material and drug use
Running Time: 94
Date: 11/15/2019

Honey Boy (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Camera Shia

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Shia LaBeouf, that former child star who graduated to starring roles in massive, multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbusters, and then more or less imploded, wrote the screenplay for what would become Honey Boy in rehab, as part of his required therapy. Admirably, he could have stayed away from the whole thing, or taken over and managed it himself, but instead, he gave it to director Alma Har'el. (They had worked together previously on the Sigur Rós music video "Fjögur píanó.") Then, as further therapy, LaBeouf agreed to play a version of his own father — similar to Mario Van Peebles in Baadasssss! — and act out painful moments that might have led to LaBeouf's being diagnosed with PTSD. It's quite an act of emotional bravery, and LaBeouf gives it everything, even going so far as to wear a prosthetic device in his nose to make his speech sound nasally and restrict his breathing, suggesting years of cocaine abuse.

Noah Jupe plays the 12 year-old "Otis," already acting and living in a sleazy motel with his father, enduring small forms of abuse (including ridiculing the weakness of the boy's urination stream). The singer FKA Twigs plays a pretty girl living across the way that sometimes provides moments of comfort for the boy. In other sequences, Lucas Hedges plays 22 year-old Otis, ten years later, in rehab and beginning to write the screenplay. Director Har'el gives all this a tender touch, with sequences verging on the dreamlike, including an astonishing opening montage showing older Otis becoming lost in a whirlwind of scenes that could be from movies or from life; it's impossible to tell. Honey Boy is a great act of empathy, and a catharsis. (Perhaps it worked; LaBeouf has turned in his very best work in recent years, in films like Fury, American Honey, Borg vs. McEnroe, and The Peanut Butter Falcon.) Laura San Giacomo, Maika Monroe, Clifton Collins Jr., Byron Bowers, and Martin Starr co-star, and Natasha Lyonne provides the voice of Otis's mother on the phone.

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