Though this is quite a good and unusual film, the story behind it is more memorable than the movie itself. Shia LaBoeuf wrote the script, based on his own experiences. And here, in the fictionalised screen version of his life, we have LaBoeuf playing James Lort (essentially a representation of his own father) – while Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges portray Otis (Shia, more or less) at the respective ages of 12 and 22.
So much for the back story. When we first see the older Otis, he’s in rehab after a drunken altercation with police. The action – or rather the memories and the dreams – flashes back and forth between that ‘present’ and Otis’s tough life as a child actor living with his decidedly unhinged father. The latter has a foul temper, and is an alcoholic combat veteran who thinks he’s very funny – which he would, being also a former rodeo clown – but really isn’t. What he is, emphatically, is an intensely dislikeable and brutal man. (As Otis remarks, “The only thing my father gave me of any value was pain”.) That said, we start to feel a measure of sympathy for Lort – if not to like him – after hearing him at an AA meeting reminiscing about his own childhood.
Honey Boy is well acted, and features a lot of very credible and naturalistic dialogue. It’s distressing in places, and predominantly bleak and sad. The main characters constantly struggle for some sort of catharsis and transcendence without seeming to get close. It’s worth seeing them try.