“Honey Boy” Review: Child actor provides for himself and abusive father

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

Shia LaBeouf stars in “Honey Boy,” an emotional film based on his young life.

By Marcos Franco, Special to the Star

Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios

“Honey Boy” tells the story of a father and son and the everlasting effect a parent has on their child in a captivating drama that draws the audience in.

The hour and a half film is based on the true story of Shia LaBeouf and his relationship with his father. LaBeouf not only starred in the film playing Otis’s father John, but he also wrote the screenplay. “Honey Boy” seesaws between 22-year-old Otis (Lucas Hedges) in 2005 and 12-year-old Otis (Noah Jupe) in 1995. In an early scene, the 22 year old is arrested after driving under the influence. This third altercation with police lands him in rehab and on parole.

Otis meets with his parole officer regularly as she helps him cope with his PTSD. Most of their discussions reflect on his unstable childhood. During the sessions, movie-goers discover the root of Otis’ alcohol abuse. In his pre-teen years, John offered him his first pack of cigarettes with the condition that he smoked inside so the neighbors would not see. This gateway later led to the father and son exchanging drags from a shared joint, furthering Otis’s exposure to drugs. In order to combat the bad memories and urges to have a drink, Otis wears a rubber band around his wrist and snaps it.

The film’s title defines the relationship between father and son as John lives off of the income of Otis. The two live in a shoebox apartment in Los Angeles funded by the young actor.

John is a relapsing drug user and alcoholic with a mountain of insecurity on his shoulders. He is lonely, unemployed and has a criminal record. During the course of the film, John attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings where the audience sees a more delicate side of him. He recalls the pain and abuse suffered in his own youth. The remorse and shame expressed by John during the meetings is heartfelt and gives a different perspective to the character.

“Honey Boy” gives the audience a window into the sad reality of substance abuse that many young actors face. LaBeouf wrote the screenplay for the film while in rehab as a form of therapy and although the film’s tone is somber, viewers are left with hope. Otis conquers the sizable obstacles in his young life and comes out a stronger individual with a light heart.

The film is great at displaying character development. The progression of Otis and John is intriguing, never leading either role to feel dull or lifeless. Through Otis, viewers vicariously experience the life of a poorly guided child actor coping with abuse. “Honey Boy” is highly emotional and filled with good acting to back it making it a worth the time and money.

LaBeouf plays John with emotion, personality and sincerity. The performance’s genuine feel makes high-intensity scenes much more believable and intimate. Before “Honey Boy,” Labeouf was best known for his performance in action movies. After watching him in the role of John, the audience is not only entertained, but is also able to admire his versatility as an actor.