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Honey Boy

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Honey Boy Movie Poster Image
Shia LaBeouf gets painfully personal in mature abuse drama.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 94 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Some people may appear to have it all, but things aren't always as they seem. Love is complicated; parents can love their kids and still not be able to take good care of them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Otis shows compassion toward his father in giving him a job. He tries to advocate for himself by communicating with his father about the paternal relationship he needs, although he isn't successful. As an adult, Otis behaves poorly, makes lots of iffy choices, but he turns his life around through rehab and therapy. James cares for his son but is an unpredictable, irresponsible father most of the time.

Violence

A character demonstrates violent tendencies to yell, threaten, push, hit, and otherwise be emotionally and physically abusive. Mentions of violence, including a potential rape that had serious consequences for the alleged perpetrator. Arguing, confrontations. A character is a registered sex offender; suggestion of pedophilia.

Sex

A young woman kisses and is affectionate with a preteen boy. Young women dance in a strip club, but don't strip; a man is shown naked, but his genitals are blocked from the shot.

Language

Profanity is constant, with "f--k" or "s--t" used in nearly every sentence. Also "ass," "bitch," "goddman," and more. A couple instances of ethnic slurs from a repugnant character.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drug use is depicted, including a child smoking pot. Constant smoking, including by a child. People at a party drink alcohol, and there's a scene in a bar. Lead character is seen partying hard, which results in negative consequences.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Honey Boy is a painful childhood memoir written during drug rehab by Shia LaBeouf, who plays a version of his own father. It's a mature but compassionate look at how the actor's real-life substance troubles began at age 12, when his dad -- a convicted sex offender and recovering addict -- was his on-set guardian during the filming of his career-launching TV series. Expect tons of smoking and swearing, with near constant use of "f--k" and "s--t." LaBeouf's character, James, is prone to outbursts of rage, and he's both emotionally and physically abusive, yelling at or physically attacking his son, friends, and strangers. An affectionate relationship arises between 12-year-old Otis (Noah Jupe) and a young woman (they kiss and snuggle, but there's no sex), and exotic dancers are seen at a strip club. There's no nudity in those scenes, but older Otis is seen naked, with his genitals covered. Drug and alcohol use are shown in a nonglamorous way.

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What's the story?

In HONEY BOY, while at a court-ordered rehabilitation facility, a famous actor named Otis (Lucas Hedges) looks back at his difficult relationship with his father. He realizes that his efforts to get his father James' (Shia LaBeouf) love and attention led him to childhood trauma, which ultimately led him down a path of drug and alcohol dependence. The story is based on LaBeouf's real life.

Is it any good?

With this drama, LaBeouf has created performance art so daring, shocking, and heartrending that you won't be able to forget it. To make Honey Boy, the actor turned his own real-life drug rehab therapy exercise into a film. In the process, he's displayed a level of courage, vulnerability, and retaking of his own power that it's fair to say few, if any, performers have attempted before. Certainly, "autobiopics" aren't unusual (Rocketman and Marriage Story, for example), but this is next level. LaBeouf steps into the shoes of his own father, reliving the emotional and physical abuse he suffered by acting as the perpetrator. It boggles the mind how the 33-year-old actor could endure this emotional challenge; was it cathartic or damaging?

Remarkably, LaBeouf doesn't make his dad into a total monster. He and director Alma Har'el show the humanity in James, a Vietnam veteran turned drug-dealing loser whose addictions cost him everything. Through the eyes of 12-year-old Otis (Noah Jupe), we see enough to understand how much kids love, want, and need their parents, even if they're fully aware that their mom or dad may not be good for them. And, as a writer, LaBeouf doesn't let himself off the hook: Older Otis (Hedges) is a Hollywood brat. In that characterization, LaBeouf is giving the public a mea culpa embedded in a request to use his real life as a character study. He implores your compassion, and, after viewers see the film, there's absolutely no way forgiveness won't be granted. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Honey Boy's themes. What do you think the filmmakers hope viewers take away from watching? Does a good movie have to be easy and/or fun to watch? What do we learn from going outside our comfort zone?

  • Talk about the therapeutic part of this film for writer-star LaBeouf. Do you think sharing pain in such an open forum is helpful? What do you think LaBeouf gained by portraying his father in the film? What do you think viewers gain from watching the film?

  • Otis believes the emotional pain he experienced in his relationship with his dad is what makes him a good actor, and thus, he seems reluctant to give it up, even though it's led to his destructive behavior. What do you think about this point of view? 

  • How does the film portray drinking, smoking, and drug use? Are they glamorized? Are there realistic consequences? Why does that matter?

  • How does the film show the importance -- and power -- of compassion?

Movie details

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