Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Honey Boy: Coming to Terms

Shia LaBeouf in Honey Boy.

Shia LaBeouf does first-rate work in Honey Boy – not only as the leading actor but even more impressively as the screenwriter. The movie, an absolute knockout, is based on LaBeouf’s own relationship with his father, who is called James Lort on screen and played by LaBeouf, a trick that, as far as I know, no other film performer has ever tried to pull off. The role of LaBeouf is played by Noah Jupe as a twelve-year-old child actor named Otis whose father – divorced from his (off-screen) mother – acts as a combination guardian and manager when he’s on a shoot; and by Lucas Hedges as a twenty-two-year-old alcoholic hellion, arrested for the third time for driving under the influence and sent by a judge to rehab before he appears for his court date. Honey Boy opens with the older Otis filming a complicated action sequence that climaxes with a conflagration; it serves as a metaphor for his life and ends with a close-up of Hedges in a state of bewilderment and emotional paralysis in which performance and essence are indistinguishable. What follows is a montage of Otis’s chaotic, sex- and alcohol-fueled off-camera life culminating in the drunken car crash. Dr. Moreno (Laura San Giacomo), the first of two counselors he sees in rehab, assures him he has post-traumatic stress. “No, I don’t!” Otis protests. “From what?” The question comes out of a decade of ferocious repression, and the flashbacks to the young Otis’s precarious, besieged life with his alcoholic, druggy father, who carries around a lifetime of rage that erupts in unpredictable bursts, sometimes verbal and sometimes physical, answer it.