Har’el’s direction is assured and unpretentious. Her work in documentary film translates, as she unobtrusively captures the people of “Honey Boy.” The emotional space she gives Jupe, LaBeouf, and Hedges shows. Each actor has his moment to transfix the audience, and each seizes it. The sheer rawness of their performances is a testament to Har’el’s ability to create an environment where that’s even possible. To tell someone else’s life story — especially when it’s being told with such brutal honesty — is impressive. To do so with warmth, intellect, and vulnerability is a Herculean feat.
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“Honey Boy” struck an immediate chord, but as the days passed, it lingered. It keeps you coming back to certain images: an eager-to-please child and his wayward father, an adult Otis trying to put back together the fractured pieces of his life. A distillation of suffering. What’s most hypnotizing is the film’s internal uncertainty. Otis and James are still in a period of adjustment that may very well never end. They are people, and by definition, emotionally unresolved, complicated and messy. This makes watching them rise and fall and then fall again all the more agonizing. In some ways, they are multifarious reflections of ourselves.
I think most movies like to generate clear-cut solutions for their characters. Such films, often crafted to be internationally digestible products, sell us these harmonious mythologies. that any problem can be solved, any pain erased. For a while, I believe LaBeouf participated in stories like these. Stories about picturesque families with “eccentric” siblings and teen angst. Stories told with a smile, however feigned, that promised to return after a brief commercial break. And so here he is as a man reemerging from the kind of personal strife most of us have the great benefit of reconciling, quietly, in private. For him, these transgressions (however egregious and problematic you may find them) have been part of the public domain since before he could legally smoke a cigarette.