Monday, February 10, 2020

Review: Is Shia Labeouf experiencing his own renaissance? A review of "Honey Boy"

Honey Boy Review
 Remember Matthew McConaughey's career in the late 90's and throughout the 2000's? He settled into a career of doing light and disposable fair. He did lots of rom-coms. He did safe stuff like "Sahara." When you put the movies "The Wedding Planner," "Failure to Launch," "How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days," "Fool's Gold" and "Ghosts of Girlfriend's Past" all next to each other, it seemed like McConaughey was basically playing the same character. Then in 2010, there was a dramatic shift. He broke out in a film called "The Lincoln Lawyer." He only began to go up from there. "Dallas Buyers Club," "True Detective," "Gold," "The Wolf of Wall Street," "Interstellar," "Mud," "Killer Joe," "Sing," "Kubo and the Two Strings...he began to challenge himself as an artist and a performer. The results were endless and the sky seemed like the limit. They called McConaughey's sudden heel turn the "McConaissance" because it did feel like he went through a rebirth as an actor.

I bring this up because it seems like Shia LaBeouf is starting to go through this now. Actually, I am not sure if "starting to" is really the right phrasing. LaBeouf started acting when he was young, and throughout the 2000's after his "Even Steven" career, he wanted to show how tough he was and he did lots of stuff like "Transformers" and "I, Robot" and it seemed like through much of the 2000's he was playing the same character (much like McConaughey). Then as early as 2012, LaBeouf started pushing himself as a performer and started making more daring decisions as an actor. I'd recommend films like "Lawless," and "Fury" and "Nymphomaniac" and especially "American Honey" which I named one of the ten best films of the 2010's recently.

Not only does LaBeouf star in the recent "Honey Boy" but he also wrote it and its partially (or possibly mostly) based on his life as young actor and how that affected him later in life. It's not a straight up autobiography, simply something that was based on his life and something he had to get out of his system while he was in rehab. You can tell this is based on his life, as the movie opens on a film set and there are noises that sound like Autobots in the background. We then meet Otis Lort (Lucas Hedges). Otis seems to be kind of drifting through being an actor and drifting through life as we meet him. Otis gets into a car crash, gets into a drunken brawl with police and then gets sent to rehab. His counselor (played by the underrated Laura San Giacomo) tells him that if he flees before she says he's ready, he will go to prison.

We then meet Otis as a decade earlier, now played by Noah Jupe, who you may remember from "A Quiet Place" and "Suburbicon." If you know LaBeouf's life, then you may see some things you recognize. LaBeouf himself plays Otis' father who helps Otis in his career as a child actor. LaBeouf's character name is James and James really isn't the best father. He smokes in front of his son, allows his own son to smoke. He says incredibly vulgar things around his son. He leaves him by himself for long amounts of time to get drunk and go to strip clubs. He loves his son, but he will do anything to make sure he gets famous. He is also unpredictable, manic and aggressive. The movie jumps from 1995 to 2005 and Otis' counselor comes to the conclusion that Otis may be suffering from PTSD.

It seems like Lucas Hedges has decided to be the guy that plays damaged young men. There is a definate pattern present as you watch his films "Manchester By The Sea" and "Lady Bird" and "Ben is Back" and "Boy Erased" and "Mid-90s." The thing is, he seems to bring something new and fresh to each new role. He seems determined to never repeat himself, even though he is essentially the same character movie by movie. He has a great range that you really don't see much in other actors his age. 

LaBeouf? He is a vile tornado of self-indulgence here. He totally disappears into the role he has provided for himself. He loses himself in the role and it is yet another great moment in a career that is budding towards brilliance. He has grown up before our eyes and we didn't even notice. So why don't we pay a little respect.

This isn't a screed against LaBeouf's father. This is very much a movie about acceptance, forgiveness and redemption. It's boldly told and richly imagined. I've seen many stories about how parents use their parents in unhealthy ways to see that they become famous and it can sometimes be ugly. LaBeouf has said himself that his father was "a different kind of man" and described him as a hippie that abused drugs. That is very clear throughout the movie. I hope LaBeouf's little personal renaissance can continue for as long as it possibly can. He deserves it. While it came out in 2019, it hit Amazon Prime recently. Too bad, I think this movie could have really made a big awards push this season. But Amazon has tons of money so they must rule all. Forget awards season though, turn on your app and support this great movie!

FINAL GRADE: A

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