TIFF Review: Honey Boy

Posted by: Sharilyn Johnson  //  September 15, 2019 @ 6:19pm

Filed under: Movie Reviews  Festivals

Shia LaBeouf used his own experience as an emotionally abused child actor to write and star in Honey Boy, one of the standouts of this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

Like LaBeouf, Otis (played by the phenomenal Noah Jupe) is a young star in the 1990s who is coached, supervised, and controlled by his ex-rodeo clown father, James (LaBeouf). Yes, LaBeouf portrays a gently fictionalized version of his own emotionally abusive father in it. To call the exercise "brave" is an understatement.

The opening montage shows the grownup movie star version of himself (played by Lucas Hedges) falling apart, and landing in jail and rehab at breakneck speed. Most of the film is spent back in the '90s, watching what would cause a therapist to later diagnose Otis with PTSD.

James is an addict, a felon, and a former rodeo clown with a short fuse. After each day on set, Otis gets on the back of his father's motorcycle and heads back to a dingy motel room, where there's little to do but be berated by his father. They practice juggling passes, and for every beanbag Otis drops, he has to do 10 pushups. Otis's mom (who we only hear in phone calls) arranged for him to spend time with a Big Brother, who James assaults upon meeting.

Through it all, James constantly tells Otis that he's his biggest supporter, does all this because he believes in him, and has made huge sacrifices to be his on-set guardian. Slowly, Otis realizes that this isn't true, and that this isn't love.

But fastforward to rehab, and Otis wonders where he'd be without his father. Didn't all this abuse just make him a good actor?

"The only thing my father gave me that was of any value was pain," the adult Otis says.

LaBeouf's real-time exorcism of his familial demons is sickening to watch, in the best possible way.

Tags: TIFF19, Toronto International Film Festival, Honey Boy, Shia LaBeouf, Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges

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Sharilyn has written on comedy, television, and film for publications such as The Toronto Star, The A.V. Club, and Vanity Fair, as well as on CBC Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @sharilynj.

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