Shia LaBeouf certainly is an interesting personality, with a life that's gone from promising child actor to unlikely action film star to drunken public nuisance to genuine performance artist/weirdo. At the tender age of 33, LaBeouf has already joined the ranks of Crazy Veteran Actors, those idiot savants who are all id and right brain. They can deliver raw, real emotion when the cameras are rolling but in real life seem incapable of even tying their shoes. It's not uncommon for these actors to write screenplays, typically as vehicles for themselves. Most of these screenplays never get produced, as they are filled with rambling monologues and woefully short on plot or logic. (Trust me, I've read a couple.) And so it goes with Honey Boy, LaBeouf's chronicle of a child star and his father.
However, there are two things that set Honey Boy apart, and which make it worthwhile viewing:
First, LaBeouf and his producers have found a brilliant foil in documentary filmmaker Alma Har'el, here directing her first dramatic feature. She and cinematographer Natasha Braier successfully open up LaBeouf's admittedly non-visual script for the big screen, giving the film the kind of scruffy poetry found in LaBeouf's other, unrelated "honey" movie, Andrea Arnold's gorgeous American Honey.
Next, and most importantly, Honey Boy is so thoroughly, cathartically autobiographical that you can't help but be sucked in, provided you know who Shia LaBeouf is and have formulated any opinions about him.
Written by LaBeouf while he was in rehab, the film takes place in 2005 and 1995, where a LaBeouf-like star (Lucas Hedges) is himself sent to rehab and looks back on his childhood with an abusive, narcissistic, dirtbag father, a failed rodeo clown who means well for his son but just can't help being bad. That LaBeouf plays his own father (British actor Noah Jupe is fantastic as the 12-year-old LaBeouf, here named "Otis") turns the film into a deeply personal thing. I started wishing that I could watch every famous star portray his or her same-sex parent on screen. Just imagine how that could change our ideas about the art of screen acting, about celebrity, even about what movies could be. That's how moving his work in Honey Boy is.
Take the autobiographic elements out of this film and I don't know exactly what you've got, besides a realistic portrait of psychological abuse and its many gray areas. Viewers who don't know LaBeouf and are unaware of his many performance art pieces – filming himself watching all his movies, locking himself in an elevator with strangers for 24 hours, yelling "Just do it!" in front of a green screen and allowing Internet pranksters to do what they want with the footage, etc. Love him or hate him, LaBeouf is doing a lot of fascinating work these days, and Honey Boy is the apotheosis of this work.