“What would you like me to say? I’m a bit of shit,” Shia LaBeouf shrieks early in “Honey Boy.”
Actually, it’s Lucas Hedges who says it, taking part in an analog of Shia LaBeouf in a film written by Shia LaBeouf about Shia LaBeouf’s life. “A bit of shit” is how loads of us would have described the onetime “Even Stevens” stooge, who is extremely conscious that he become a morality story about childhood fame gone fallacious. However Shia LaBeouf has a factor or two to inform us — and, extra importantly, to inform himself — about what made him a paper-bag-wearing, scene-causing, jail-hopping agitator.
Most celebrities who draft memoirs achieve this in ebook type; LaBeouf’s is a film. He penned “Honey Boy” whereas in rehab for substance abuse in 2017, channeling the demons that despatched him spiraling as a child whose felonious, abusive stage father was additionally a member of LaBeouf’s payroll. In a curious transfer that absolutely hovers someplace between catharsis and flagellation, the actor performs his personal dad, introduced as a grizzled miscreant with stringy hair and a drug behavior he can’t fairly kick. The Shia character, on the planet of “Honey Boy,” is called Otis Lort. An astounding Noah Jupe, the 13-year-old lad whose star first shined in “Surprise” and “A Quiet Place,” portrays Otis as a child; Hedges takes over as Otis is nearing maturity. The place Otis is in search of serenity and normality and all the opposite qualities that evade many well-known tenderfoots, his combat-veteran father received’t cease chasing chaos.
“Honey Boy,” which premiered Friday on the Sundance Movie Competition, is cut up between two intermingled timelines. It opens in 2005 with Hedges’ dead-eyed Otis, then in his late teenagers, on the set of a blockbuster, being pulled via the air for an motion sequence after which reset by manufacturing assistants to do it yet again, as if he’s cattle herded via theatrical wreckage. A subsequent automotive crash lands him in jail, which in flip pushes him right into a rehab facility replete with “hug circles” and knitting classes. It’s there that he labels himself, furiously, a “piece of shit” ― an concept loosely implanted by Pricey Previous Dad ― and the place he begins scripting scenes from his life to be able to higher course of his previous.
Hedges imbues in Shia ― or Otis, for those who insist ― an appropriately aggro virility, lumbering round with frantic restlessness, yelling and burying his face within the neck of his shirt when harassed. This is the LaBeouf we acknowledge from years of damning headlines, and in juxtaposing him with such a unstable youth, the character turns into relentlessly sympathetic.
The movie’s different half takes place in 1995, when Jupe’s Otis is the star of an “Even Stevens”-esque sitcom. Once more, we first appear him hooked up to a pulley, being flung via a room and smacked with a pie. He’s a brilliant expertise with a precocious knack for comedian timing, similar to LaBeouf in “Stevens.” However his father, who accompanies him to set, lives with him in a low-rent motel and infrequently causes a stir wherever they go, is as unreliable as he’s inescapable, working him to the bone one minute and hollering about child-labor legal guidelines the subsequent. (In between, he may wave a gun at his son.) Otis lacks stability, but he’s the one floating the payments ― an unattainable state of affairs for a teen thrust into the general public eye.
The occasions between 1995 and 2005 are absent from the film, which is ok since we all know all an excessive amount of about how LaBeouf aged as each a performer and an individual within the interim. If it weren’t autobiography, I’m unsure “Honey Boy” could be far more than one other story a couple of dude with daddy points. However as a result of it’s LaBeouf, who in the previous few years has lastly gotten candid about his historical past, it surfaces an train in self-awareness, a remedy session that may assist him perceive his personal psyche. It’s, in essentially the most shocking methods, an act of maturity.
It helps that the 93-minute drama is directed splendidly by Alma Har’el, whom LaBeouf sought out after producing her shifting 2016 documentary “LoveTrue.” Har’el and the gifted cinematographer Natasha Braier (“The Neon Demon”) paint “Honey Boy” with a dreamy brush. Quiet moments, like when the younger Otis finds himself alone or when the older Otis feels the burden of his scrambled mind, possess a gauzy profundity; loud moments, a frenzied melancholy. Even when the film stumbles ― as in a manic-pixie-dream-girl subplot involving an older intercourse employee (FKA Twigs) that borders on uncomfortable ― it stays a uncooked perception into the thoughts of somebody who couldn’t keep away from a troubled upbringing, attempt as he may. Har’el’s female contact is simply what “Honey Boy” wants to melt its brittle masculinity.
Till the film’s shut, the twin timelines collide solely in spirit. Younger Otis and rehabbing Otis scream into the void concurrently, smoke cigarettes like they’re safety blankets, and amble about with the type of proverbial loneliness that haunts the wealthy and well-known. “Honey Boy” declines to absolve Otis’ father, nevertheless it nonetheless ends with a feat of generosity. In crafting the movie, LaBeouf appears to know that he can’t transfer on ― along with his life or his renown ― with out addressing all that’s plagued him.
LaBeouf, by the best way, is phenomenal. That shouldn’t come as a shock to anybody who’s paid consideration to his grown-up profession. The abrasive troublemaker is at his greatest when taking part in, effectively, abrasive troublemakers, as in “Nymphomaniac,” “Borg vs. McEnroe” and the fantastic “American Honey.” LaBeouf’s id guides his performances, and when the digital camera lingers on his face, he feels one step away from exploding or melting down or possibly each. In holding, that is much less the beginning of a brand new chapter for LaBeouf and extra a continuation of the work he’s been doing for the higher a part of a decade.
No matter how “Honey Boy” lands with viewers, it’s a assured dialog piece that deserves a spot within the postmodern superstar canon. Films that touch upon actors’ reputations are nothing new ― see: Cary Grant in “His Lady Friday,” Julia Roberts in “Ocean’s 12,” Michael Keaton in “Birdman” ― however hardly ever can we see somebody flip their sophisticated saga into such curious poetry. If the world has spent 20 years questioning who precisely Shia LaBeouf is, now we all know.