SHIA Labeouf started as a child actor in Hollywood. We remember seeing him as a child actor in the adventure movie “Holes” in 2003. Then as a teenager, he played the young hero in the thriller “Disturbia” in 2007. He hit it big when he played the lead role in the first ‘Transformers’ movie and then its two sequels. He also starred in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” in 2008.
But then, his alcoholism got the better of him and he was arrested several times for disorderly conduct. He was ordered by the courts to enter rehab for alcoholism. No doubt this affected his career adversely and we’re glad he’s still getting good roles like in “Pieces of a Woman”.
After we watched it, we became interested in the movie he made about his experiences as a child actor, “Honey Boy”. We learned he wrote the script himself as a form of therapy while he was in rehab. It’s the directorial debut of his friend, Alma Har’el, and it’s based on his tumultuous childhood relationship with his own father.
His alter ego in the film is named Otis Lort and he also has a problem with alcoholism and anger issues. After getting into a drunken conflict with cops, he is sent to a rehab facility. His counselor-therapist (Laura San Giacomo) reminds him that if he’d leave the facility without completing the rehab, he would be taken by the cops to prison for his past offenses.
He’s told that his problem is rooted from his PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) but he does not believe it and says: “I’m just an egomaniac with an inferiority complex!” His counselor tells him he has to look back into his past to understand why he has so many anger issues in his present.
The movie then goes back to the time that he is working as a child actor, played by the very talented Noah Jupe, who just played the son of Nicole Kidman in “The Undoing” and also played the young son in films like “Suburbicon”, “A Quiet Place” and “Ford v. Ferrari”.
His parents are separated and Otis is accompanied on the set by his dad, James (played by Shia LaBeouf himself), who used to work as rodeo clown and is a reformed alcoholic. The film alternates between Otis as a boy and as a grown up (played by Lucas Hedges of “Let Them All Talk”) while undergoing therapy and who continues to doubt that the rehab is helping him at all.
When the boy gets an offer to do a movie in Canada, Otis calls his mom who says his dad cannot accompany him there as he’s a convicted sex offender. This triggers a shouting match between his parents. We then learn that James has an abusive stepmother that led to his getting into drugs and booze. While drunk, he tried to rape a woman so he got convicted as a sex offender.
Otis becomes friendly to their neighbor, a shy black girl (played by FKA Twigs), who’s much older than him. James got mad when they see him together in bed. He becomes overbearing in trying to rehearse Otis for his scenes and the boy tells him to be a better dad to him as his dad is actually just his employee. James gets mad and slaps Otis twice. This makes it so obvious that his abusive dad is really the source of Shia LaBoeuf’s anger issues.
When we’re interviewing child stars during presscons, we sometimes wonder if they are really enjoying the job they’re doing or are they just forced by their parents who make them their family’s breadwinners. But it’s quite hard to tell, as most them are just eager to be liked by the press. Maybe they should watch “Honey Boy” and make comparisons.
Honestly, we can’t help it if we sympathize totally with the child actor that Shia was and the awful kind of parenting that he got while working as a minor. After the movie, we can’t help also but wonder if writing the script of the movie really proved cathartic and therapeutic for Shia, who’s even brave enough to play a version of his own repulsive father in it. The movie even showed that it was his dad who taught him how to smoke marijuana which he himself planted along the highway.
We did some research about Shia now and we learned that he was arrested again last September, 2020 for battery and petty theft involving his conflict with another guy. And just last month of December, he was sued by his own girlfriend of two years, FKA Twigs (who played the shy black girl in “Honey Boy”), for sexual battery, assault and emotional distress.
Obviously, writing the script of a movie about his own sad childhood experiences still didn’t help enough in healing him totally. But maybe because it’s said that up to now, both his parents are still dependent on him. Still and all, it cannot be denied that the movie is so well acted.
Noah Jupe gives a very sensitive performance as the boy Otis, trapped in a tumultuous relationship with his own father. Lucas Hedges as the grown up Otis brings it all home as the young man who’s the product of the boy Otis’ abrasive experiences with his dad and is now all bottled up and cannot keep it all together.
And Shia LaBeouf as the father pulls all stops in playing with such honesty the role of a man who is bitter with what he has become, jealous of his own son’s popularity, plagued with addiction and other weaknesses. We seriously wonder what his own dad felt after watching his portrayal of him in the film.