Shia LaBeouf has dabbled in a performance art by the bushel, and all of it was preamble to a modest yet powerful movie he wrote, acts in and elevates past personal confession and public therapy into something haunting.
“Honey Boy” is a hallucination of forgiveness, a subjective rush of love from a boy who became a man, whose father mistreated him by the measure of his own failings as a performer, a personality, a creature in the world. Shia LaBeouf wrote it during a stretch of rehab, about his stage father’s treatment of him when he was a child actor, and he plays his own father as well. That performance gains power from LaBeouf’s willingness to play the worst weakness of his kin while also refracting, in his screenplay, the wide-eyed gaze of concern and rebellion brewing within him as a boy (played by the beautifully present Noah Jupe, a smaller yet still significant asset to “Ford v Ferrari”). An egomaniac is unwittingly bent on creating an inferiority complex in his child and meal ticket; LaBeouf does not hesitate to wander into embodying his father at his most insufferable, as a violent, potentially dangerous dry-drunk piece of shit.
The opening shot is featured in promotions for the film: the boy, grown, is played by Lucas Hedges, and strapped to a harness for a stunt scene, is detonated backwards toward a burning airplane. How do you build from that?
Director Alma Har’el, making her first fiction feature, was challenged on Twitter about influences, and she described Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Santa Sangre,” “El Topo,” “Fando Y Lis” and “The Holy Mountain” as “psycho magic”: that admiration provides one entry into fathoming the weave and wooze of her work, elevating what could have been narcissistic wallow into a fabric of memory about the bloom of consciousness and self-awareness, but also undying hope toward blood itself.
The hall of mirrors, of course, is strewn with mischief and nonsense and even, yes, love. Even if father/Shia is prone to derail his train of thought, murmuring or shouting things like “I spent a lot of time with chickens, the road, you know!” (There is a performing chicken.) With FKA Twigs, Byron Bowers, Martin Starr, Laura San Giacomo, Natasha Lyonne. 95m. (Ray Pride)
“Honey Boy” is at River East, Landmark Century and Century Evanston.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.