Honey Boy is a difficult watch for its honesty. To confront your demons on a public stage is terrifying to say the least. Written by Shia LaBeouf as part of therapy in rehab, Honey Boy is set in two timelines —2005 and 1995 — and looks at Otis Lort’s tumultuous relationship with his father, James.
The movie opens in 2005 where a 22-year-old Otis is a successful action movie star with serious problems with alcohol. After a drunken binge, a car crash and a violent altercation with the police, Otis is ordered to rehab. His therapist says he suffers from PTSD and needs to confront his past to avoid the triggers and move forward.
With much resistance, swearing and rage, Otis revisits his 12-year-old self when he was a television actor living in a motel on the edge of town with his father. Four years sober, James, a Viet vet, was a rodeo clown with a routine with a chicken called Henrietta de Fowl, “the first daredevil chicken”. James is clearly on the edge resenting Otis paying him to be his (Otis) chaperon on sets.
- Director: Alma Har’el
- Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, FKA Twigs
- Runtime: 94 minutes
- Storyline: A young actor confronts a history of mental and emotional abuse
It is a painful growing up for Otis as he fathers James even while repeatedly telling him, “I am only 12 years old,” smoking cigarettes and flinching as James teeters on the precipice, or hurls abuse at his son.
“The only thing my father gave me that is of any value is pain and you want to take that away?” Otis asks his therapist. Talking of writing the script LaBeouf is quoted as saying, “It is strange to fetishise your pain. It felt very selfish.” However, it is the honesty that makes this intensely personal journey hit universal notes.
Anyone who has suffered emotional or mental abuse, struggled with addiction or been a caregiver to someone struggling with addiction will recognise Otis’ trauma. Those lucky enough not to encounter any of this will still be able to relate to this story of fathers and sons, growing up, love, loss and grief.
Alma Har’el, a friend and collaborator of LaBeouf makes her feature film debut with Honey Boy. The title incidentally was LaBeouf’s childhood nickname. The actors are exceptional with LaBeouf as James and Noah Jupe as 12-year-old Otis shining brighter than the rest.
As mentioned earlier, Honey Boy is not an easy watch, but a necessary one for its message of hope and healing reinforced with Bob Dylan singing “I ain’t lookin’ to block you up/ Shock or knock or lock you up/ Analyze you, categorize you/ Finalize you or advertise you…” at the end of the movie as a grown-up Otis rides into the sunset on his father’s bike.
Honey Boy is currently streaming on Amazon Prime