Celebrity success stories are the end result that the whole world witnesses and admires, but very few are fully aware of the backstories leading up to their acclaim and notoriety. Shia Labeouf’s new film, “Honey Boy,” allows audience members to see his own personal story by catching a glimpse into the world that turned him into one of the biggest young stars of the 2000s.
Labeouf’s career started in the mid 90s with small gigs that grew larger until he got his big break, a main part on the Disney Channel TV show “Even Stevens.” Labeouf’s stardom only expanded from there, leading to a starring role in the film adaptation of Louis Sachar’s novel “Holes,” the “Transformers” franchise and more.
In recent years, however, Labeouf has had public legal troubles, including a 2014 disorderly conduct charge and a second arrest in 2017, which led to his stay in a rehabilitation program. Here he was diagnosed with PTSD and started writing as a form of therapy. As his writing evolved, it eventually became the “Honey Boy” screenplay.
The film cuts between two times in Labeouf’s life: his years as a young actor and his recent experiences in rehab. Labeouf plays the role of his own father in the film, and “A Quiet Place” actor, Noah Jupe, portrays Labeouf’s younger self. For fans who have traced Labeouf’s work starting from the early years on Disney, his traumatic childhood experiences offset would most likely come as a surprise.
A large section of the film traces Labeouf’s childhood during the mid 90s to early 2000s, when he and his father were living together in a seedy motel in the Los Angeles area. His dad was a Vietnam war veteran addicted to drugs and alcohol, and Shia acted as the breadwinner for both of them through his acting gigs.
The characters of the film, although autobiographical, each carry fictional titles. The character meant to represent Labeouf is named Otis and his father’s onscreen name is James Lort. James is emotionally and at times physically abusive to young Otis, who yearns for his father to be more loving and affectionate as in a traditional parent-child relationship.
One acting gig calls on Otis to have a conversation with an actor playing his onscreen father, whose scripted lines reveal to Otis’ character how much he cares for and loves him. When the scene airs on TV and James and Otis watch together, Otis can’t keep from shedding tears as he envisions and wishes for his own father to say the same things to him.
Labeouf does a great job of portraying his father objectively to show different sides to his personality. In spite of his coldness and abuse, James still has moments where he supports Otis and encourages him in his acting career.
“I know you got what it takes. You’re a fucking star and I know it. That’s why I’m here. I’m your cheerleader Honey Boy,” James tells Otis during a pivotal scene in their motel room home.
Labeouf’s honesty in showing the world his story has hit a nerve with fans who feel compelled to mirror his honesty in their own lives.
“#HoneyBoy just instantly became my favorite movie ever,” Twitter user IV said on the film. What Shia Lebeouf managed to do in that movie is remarkable. His willingness to tell his story, gives me courage to continue unpacking mine.”
As a grown man in rehab, Otis’ memories of his father still trouble him emotionally, and he has recurring nightmares where he returns to the motel. However, by the end of the film Otis is in a better place mentally and is shown returning to meet his father to inform him about the making of the film.
Labeouf, who hadn’t spoken with his father in years, got in touch to tell him about the new movie. He told the Hollywood Reporter that the process of bringing the story to life made him perceive things from his father’s point of view and has led to a sense of tranquility.
“He knows that I see him,” said Labeouf. “He’s calmed. And I’ve calmed.”
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