Honey Boy stunned me. Quite honestly, after walking out of the theater, I was dazed and reflective and really grateful to have experienced this film. I had a lot of mixed thoughts on this movie, and so I suppose I’ll give sorting them a try.
Firstly, it has to be recognized that this movie is just upsetting. It’s a sad movie and the wisps of hope and joy found throughout the film seem to only amplify the grand sadness underscoring everything. When looking into just how autobiographical this screenplay is for LaBeouf, one finds this film to be (sorry that all the critics are saying this but it’s just true) a large act of therapy and coping. The meta references to this film being made within the work itself combined with the jarring real-life photos of Shia and his family at the end credits point towards an attempt by LaBeouf to lay everything out, place it together, and try to make sense of how he got to where he is. The fact that LaBeouf plays the character reflecting his father adds to the coping going on as you can see him working to access his father’s head space. This performance, along with truly all others in the film, was arresting and touching. (To be honest, I’ve always been really skeptical of Lucas Hedges’ work but I feel like he really inhabits a different life in this movie.) LaBeouf’s time on screen specifically transcended the plot as one watches reality and art intertwine and speak to each other.
This leads me to the conflicting thoughts that grew out of this experience: when can we get gritty and touching movies of trauma that extend beyond white men? Of course, this is when I lose a big group of people as apparently pointing this out is now a cliché or punchline or something, but I can’t help but wonder how many more stories we have of women and people of color’s struggles and how they deserve an outlet and audience like Honey Boy. Obviously beautiful movies like that are being made, but I guess I just feel this movie got a much more understanding audience compared to films that are “Oscar bait” because they’re representing the struggles that a white American audience doesn’t want to engage with. It doesn’t help in this case as FKA Twigs’ character, one of the only central female characters, is an unnamed prostitute that simply serves as a newfound mother figure (verging on an uncomfortable sexual role) to protagonist Otis. Or that in general the only women in this film are either mother figures, therapists, or strippers. This choice may help in understanding the molding of Otis’ worldview but also… “Shy Girl” at least deserved a name. This take deserves a lot more nuance but I wanted to bring up something that crossed my mind while sitting in the theater.
Honey Boy deserves a (critical) watch as it is well made, touching, and speaks to the celebrity culture of the past few decades in terms of its plot as well as its conception and execution.