Sundance 2019: “Honey Boy” Review
Honey Boy, directed by Alma Har’el and written by Shia LaBeouf as a semi-autobiographical film about a young child actor trying to mend a relationship with his abusive and alcoholic father. We get two perspectives in the movie, one from the younger Otis (Noah Jupe) and one from the older Otis (Lucas Hedges). As young Otis is a rising star in the world of Hollywood, he lives with his father, James (Shia LaBeouf) in a small motel in Los Angeles. In contrast, we have the film opening with a montage of older Otis doing various roles and films mixed in with how lost and disoriented he is in his life.
I’m the first person to say that I was not previously a fan of Shia LaBeouf and his work as it never really struck a chord with me, but Honey Boy is a massive departure from that. The writing in the film is so powerful as if each tiny word was chosen with such significance. Also, Shia gives a heart-wrenching tale ripe with comedy, passion, and vulnerability. It is undoubtedly a career-best performance. As James, he wholly transforms into the character and plays a very nuanced and complex character. After his fantastic success in A Quiet Place last year, Noah Jupe continues to stun in a role that will undoubtedly get people talking. For such a young actor, he took on a very challenging and mature part, and with such tenacity. Lucas Hedges is easily the treasure of his generation. Every role he tackles is superbly done and only makes us appreciate him even more.
But what is at the center of the entire story is a very complicated relationship between father and son. This complex relationship relied entirely on the chemistry between Jupe and LaBeouf, and they nail it. Their relationship is authentic and their chemistry genuinely electrifying. Each of them disappeared into their characters, forcing the audience to take a deep, and at times, uncomfortable look at the relationship between them.
Although I am not familiar with her previous work, Alma Har’el has taken Shia’s script and created something that is poignant as beautifully stylistic. Her choice of filter and colors in the film brings these moments to life even more. Using beautiful tones of blue and purple with the water in the pool created such an atmosphere in the film that it stands out from the crowd. Small decisions like those shine in the film and display her talent as a director and should certainly put her on everyone’s radar.
If I have any qualms with the film, it would be that it is a slow burn. That being said, it is indeed worth the wait and pays off in the end with a story that will genuinely move you about a son reaching out for his father who is battling his demons. Honey Boy exceeded my expectations in every way and should definitely be on your radar if you are at Sundance.