There’s a saying: people don’t need a doctor, they need an audience. Now I’m not telling you to cut off your doctor and get up on your soapbox (please don’t) — but there’s definitely a therapeutic element to films that mean that artists and directors can put their material out there as an emotional purge. Not shying away from this heavy topic, Shia LaBeouf’s new film Honey Boy is a fictionalised, self-proclaimed account of his rise to fame.
While our own Nathan McVay was a big fan of the film at Sundance this year, the trailers have just been released in both red-band and green-band formats to the general public (the film avoids the constraints of censorship this way). Not to be confused with A24’s American Honey in which LaBeouf also starred — though a crossover into the Andrea Arnold universe wouldn’t go amiss — it gives us a glimpse of a sincere, autobiographical story in disturbing detail.
The story recounts a child actor, Otis (played by Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges at different stages in his life) who navigates a difficult relationship with his driven father — a role LaBeouf bravely takes on this role himself. You could argue that it’s simply convenient to read into any film as autobiographical, when in reality it has nothing to do with actual events. But it seems as if the parallels between Otis and LaBeouf are too close to be coincidental. Lucas Hedges starring in a blockbuster at the start of the trailer is almost definitely intended to resemble Transformers; the young Otis stars in a TV series that is almost certainly a version of Even Stevens, LaBeouf’s first long-running show.
Honey Boy has been written by LaBeouf in collaboration with director Alma Har’el and makes use unusual techniques to tell an affecting story. The arthouse influences are clear and it’s an ambitious way of recounting abusive relationships in a turbulent coming-of-age story. The film also stars FKA twigs in her feature-film debut. The official synopsis is as follows:
“From a screenplay by Shia LaBeouf, based on his own experiences, award-winning filmmaker Alma Har’el brings to life a young actor’s stormy childhood and early adult years as he struggles to reconcile with his father and deal with his mental health. Fictionalizing his ascent to stardom, and subsequent crash-landing into rehab and recovery, Har’el casts Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges as Otis Lort, navigating different stages in a frenetic career.
LaBeouf takes on the therapeutic challenge of playing a version of his own father, an ex-rodeo clown and a felon. Har’el’s feature narrative debut is a one-of-a-kind collaboration between filmmaker and subject, exploring art as medicine and imagination as hope through the life and times of a talented, traumatized performer who dares to go in search of himself.”
At only 93 minutes, it looks to be a short but intense ride, and I for one hope that it impacts audiences as powerfully as LaBeouf was hoping. Honey Boy is set for a general release on November 8.