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I did not attend January’s Sundance Film Festival, but colleagues who were in Park City had wonderful things to say about Honey Boy, a biopic that premiered there. Still, I had to see the film — which marks the narrative directorial debut of the Israeli-American filmmaker Alma Har’el — to believe it, since it was written by, stars and is very much about the child actor turned troubled adult Shia LaBeouf, who has received more publicity for being an unmitigated screw-up over the past decade-plus — DUIs, public drunkenness and bizarre ‘art’ projects — than for any acting work.
Having just come from the pic’s second Toronto International Film Festival screening, at the Elgin Theatre, I am pleased to confirm that the reports are true: Honey Boy, which Amazon acquired after Sundance and will release Nov. 8, is very much the real deal. In fact, I think it’s a game-changer for LaBeouf, who no one who sees the film will ever be able to look at the same way, and who may be on his way to Oscar nominations for best original screenplay (he wrote the script in 2017 while in therapy) and best supporting actor (he plays his own father).
Under the name ‘Otis,’ LaBeouf is portrayed in the film as a child by A Quiet Place‘s Noah Jupe and as an adult by Lucas Hedges, both excellent. But the most interesting character, by far, is the father, a military veteran, recovering addict and registered sex offender who cobbled together a living as a clown until his son came along and started getting work as an actor. The pic cuts back-and-forth between LaBeouf’s childhood and adulthood. In the parts of the movie that look at LaBeouf’s youth, his father pushes him relentlessly, and sometimes abusively — out of love, the father claims, but for lack of a better way to support himself, the son recognizes early on. In the parts of the film that look at LaBeouf as an adult, we see the PTSD-like impact that this sort of an upbringing has had on him, as he stars in Transformers-like movies while battling alcoholism and rage of his own.
It is a testament to LaBeouf that, even after all that he has apparently been through, he is willing to present — in both writing and performance — his father’s perspective as aggressively as his own. I suspect that because of both the fine work that he has done on this film, the remarkable comeback that it represents (he is also said to be excellent this year in The Peanut Butter Falcon, which I have not yet seen) and the sympathy that the story engenders, members of the Academy’s acting and writing branches will be hard-pressed to overlook him.
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