‘Honey Boy’ Review: Shia LaBeouf Lets Himself Off the Hook

For years, the talented actor Shia LaBeouf, who started in film and television as a child, has been acting out his emotional disturbances and drug and alcohol issues in public. In the wake of a 2017 arrest during which he made racist remarks, he has been taking more sober stock of his life and art. He wrote the screenplay and plays a major role in “Honey Boy,” directed by Alma Har’el in her fiction feature debut.

Even viewers who know nothing of LaBeouf and his back story might detect this film’s autobiographical key. “Honey Boy” has two openings. One features Noah Jupe as the fresh-faced child actor Otis, a precocious talent, in the dubious care of his alcoholic, bitter father, James. The other features the adult Otis, played by Lucas Hedges, an overly attitudinal star of effects-driven blockbuster movies whose offscreen life is like a drunken hellion montage.

The movie toggles between the ’90s and the ’00s, child Otis and man-child Otis. It highlights hair-raising interactions between Otis and James, played by LaBeouf. His drawling evocation of his own father is a bravura incarnation of resentment.

On the surface James appears a manipulator of genius, but for all his machinations he is constantly flopping in the arenas of power, money and sex. The movie makes a point of showing him striking out with a beautiful young woman (the music and dance artist FKA twigs, whose casting indicates the hipness quotient to which the movie aspires); young Otis then picks up Dad’s slack and starts an intimate friendship with her. Harsh!

One could watch “Honey Boy” musing that it must be nice to get Amazon Studios to finance a movie of your 12-step qualification. That assessment is actually too generous. To share one’s “experience, strength and hope,” as Alcoholics Anonymous puts it, is meant, ostensibly, to help others. This is not the aim here. “Honey Boy” is a flex: an assertion of the clout LaBeouf claims, in interviews, to no longer have.

When adult Otis sasses his counselor (Martin Starr) at a recovery facility, so high end it has a grand piano in its reception area, Hedges and Ha’rel don’t present the character as a damaged person having a difficult time accepting help. Rather, they concoct a rough and tough, rehab-resistant maverick who can’t be tamed because his wounds are just too complicated.

Near the film’s end, Otis splits from rehab and finds James back at the motel. Sitting by the pool, they share a joint. “I’m gonna make a movie about you, Dad,” Otis says. And there you have it.

Honey Boy

Rated R for themes, language, drunken hellion montages. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes.

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