In Alma Ha’rel’s intensely personal Honey Boy, Shia LaBeouf plays his own emotionally broken and abusive father. In vicariously projecting his pain for us to see, he transforms this film into therapy for him and for those of use who grew up with a difficult childhood.
Shia LaBeouf’s brave honesty and Alma Ha’rel’s sensitive treatment of his traumatic past creates a film so vividly striking and intensely emotional. By playing his own emotionally abusive father, Shia LaBeouf’s presence transforms Honey Boy into a singular vicarious experience for both the actor himself and the audience. This transcendent quality of projecting trauma is so powerful because Shia is such a pervasive figure in the film. By opening his personal story for us all, Honey Boy becomes more than a film. It is a therapeutic experience for those of us who grew up with a troubling childhood. Through Honey Boy, I was compelled to reckon with traumatic events in my life.
Every scene was an acknowledgement of Shia LaBeouf’s real pain and a mirroring of mine, and a vehicle from which to make sense of hazy and painful memories of years past that is indelibly a part of one’s identity. Honey Boy’s brilliantly taut script and direction, coupled with the immensely lush and experimental cinematography gives Honey Boy an incongruously dreamlike quality that juxtaposes the inescapable realities of pain. Much like last year’s We The Animals, the film’s fluorescent tinge of shimmering bokeh and the stitching of past and present in a single shot makes it one of this year’s most beautifully shot films. More importantly, this visual fluidity represents the hazy effect of re-telling one’s history and conveys a bittersweet hope that a re-telling of pain can slowly bring the color back to life again. The way this film is shot is so shockingly versatile, inventive and beautiful.
The stellar cast of Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jude and FKA Twigs portray their roles superbly and portray the various characters in Shia’s childhood. Their work in this does justice to an intensely personal story of pain. Told through non-linear storytelling, Honey Boy is an unsettling and uncomfortable but so very real. Though Shia is excruciatingly good acting as his own worst enemy (his father), Lucas Hedges and Noah Jude were equally brilliant in playing Shia himself. Most crucially, Honey Boy’s characters embody the complicated and unfortunate situations that befall on all of us, and the unintentional and intentional pain that we pass on to others. This circle of violence and trauma is depicted painstakingly but honestly; It is explicit, it is visceral and it is searing.
At the end of it all, Lucas Hedges (who plays adult Shia Labeouf) tells his dad (played by Shia Labeouf) ‘You know, one day, I’m gonna make a film about you Dad.’ He did. And we are watching that very film. More powerful than a break-the-fourth-wall is a moment that makes us feel as if we are living and breathing in the momentary reality of Shia’s story. In turn, we relive and confront our own demons. The trauma is past and the trauma is now. But hopefully, like Honey Boy’s suggests, the ever-presence of life grants us the difficult but liberating act of letting it go.