« Parasite | Main | Denver Film Festival - The Torture Report »

October 30, 2019

Denver Film Festival - Honey Boy


Alma Har'el - 2019
Amazon Films

Honey Boy was created out of the therapy sessions actor Shai LaBoeuf had for treatment of drug and alcohol abuse. The film title comes from his father's nickname when LaBoeuf was a child. The screenplay is largely autobiographical, although I would not count on it being entirely factual. The bigger question for me is whether the audience should care about the story of a child actor growing up in the care of a volatile and abusive father, living in a run down long-term residential motel, if this was not about a well known movie star? What also is of concern is that the celebrity in question is perhaps more famous for various attention grabbing activity beyond starring in a very popular franchise.

What also gets in the way for me is having Lucas Hedges play the part of Otis, LaBoeuf's twenty-two year old proxy. Not that Hedges is a bad actor, but after Ben is Back and Boy Erased, I feel like there is type-casting at work here, with Hedges as the first choice for any films about a young man with a tortured soul, sort of like our current moment's James Dean, but in lesser films.

Where Honey Boy is most successful is in the opening sequence. With mostly quick cuts of Otis between performing on film sets and out of control in his car or dressing room, there is the suggestion that Otis is not totally able to distinguish life in or out of the studio, an existence of constant disorientation. The way it is filmed and edited, when Otis totals his car, crawling out of the flipped over wreckage, I had first assumed from his overly dramatic reaction to being arrested that this was a recreation of a movie scene. The film continues this point more clearly several times with people in Otis' life trying to distinguish when the actor is expressing himself genuinely and not acting.

LaBoeuf plays the part of his own father, renamed in the film as Jeff Lort. Somewhat similar to stage mother, using the child to fulfill his own thwarted dreams, Jeff acts as manager and chauffeur, with young Otis riding on the back of Jeff's motorcycle between studios and their remote home. Four years sober, Jeff not only has to fight his stated demons of addiction, but his unstated humiliation at knowing that as a convicted felon, his best opportunity for employment is working for his eleven year old son. This is essential a story of a son's attempt at unconditional love answered frequently by a father's betrayal. My only hope is that in making this film, Shia LaBoeuf has successfully broken the darker aspects of his family's history.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 30, 2019 09:37 AM