Over a year after its original limited release, Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy (starring Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, and Noah Jupe) has finally been widely released on Amazon Prime Video. The movie premiered in January 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival, but it wasn’t until November when Honey Boy hit limited theaters. Perhaps its long release played a role in its lukewarm performance during awards season. But don’t let its absence at the Oscars fool you — Honey Boy is one of the most heartbreaking and unforgettable films of the year.
Written by Shia LaBeouf about his own life, Honey Boy follows the story of Otis, a child actor, and his strained relationship with his father (LaBeouf). The story jumps back and forth between 1995 and 2005, with Noah Jupe portraying a twelve-year-old Otis and Lucas Hedges playing Otis ten years later. As an older Otis grapples with his PTSD in a rehab center, he is forced to confront the haunting memories of his childhood years and coming of age under his deadbeat father.
LaBeouf delivers a particularly gripping performance, exploring the complexities of his own father through his portrayal in the movie. The intimacy of the material is evident through the nuances of LaBeouf’s acting; he tackles the character with a sense of whimsical recklessness, making crude jokes and stumbling his way through night clubs.
Hedges, as always, is captivating and authentic; but it is Jupe’s Otis that shines through the screen with wide-eyed hope and delicate innocence. After landing lead roles in blockbusters like A Quiet Place and Ford v Ferrari, Jupe is rising rapidly to fame. He’s a name to look out for, especially with the sequel to A Quiet Place coming next month.
But there is much more to be praised about Honey Boy than its performances. In fact, the most noteworthy aspect of the film is its visuals. Director Alma Har’el and cinematographer Natasha Braier are just two of the many female filmmakers who were snubbed at this year’s Academy Awards.
Honey Boy is a visual feast, shrouded in mesmerizing blues and violets. Har’el’s directorial vision is simultaneously euphoric and raw, each shot dynamic and purposeful. Breathed to life by a stunning use of color, the images highlight the beats of the story, with Otis’s younger years wistfully vivid and his older years softer and duller.
The underlying problem with the Academy recognizing so many films created for and by white populations is that it can be hard to distinguish which ones bring a unique perspective on the human experience. Take Ford v Ferrari, which was in the running for Best Picture this year. Despite its flawless technical execution, it had little to nothing to say about modern society. Honey Boy offers an honest and powerful glimpse through the lens of abuse, mental health and toxic masculinity; for this reason, it’s a shame that it went unrecognized at the Oscars, especially with such incredible women at the helm of its production.
Honey Boy is an utterly cathartic and gorgeous work of modern cinema that is not to be missed. It is available for streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.
Featured Image Credit To Natasha Braier & Courtesy of Sundance Institute