Honey Boy (15)****

Dir: Alma Har’el

With: Shia LaBeouf, Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges

Runtime: 95 mins

Now that Shia LaBeouf is no longer a top of the line star, and with his well documented troubles hopefully behind him, he’s moved into an interesting indie phase in his career. Honey Boy, which also marks his screenwriting debut, provides ample evidence that he could indeed succeed in that regard.

LaBeouf is essentially playing his own father here in the semi-autobiographical story of Otis (played by Jupe as a 12-year-old and Hedges in his 20s), a young actor whom we’re first introduced to when he see the older Otis shooting a movie involving various stunts and physical feats.

This is intercut with him on his downtime, indulging in drink and drugs and bursts of rage, but laced together so nimbly that after a while we don’t know what is a movie and what is Otis’s actual life.

But a drunken car crash brings us and him squarely into reality, as he faces a stint in a rehab facility to help with his PTSD and avoid jail. To find the source of his trauma we’re taken back to when Otis was 12 and already a successful actor. LaBeouf plays his father, James, who while not exactly abusive, is certainly not a nurturing figure, but a loudmouthed alcoholic who pockets his son’s per diem.

Portraying him as a relentless taskmaster in the drive to make Otis a star, LaBeouf unfolds a poignant tale as we explore James’s fragile masculinity – sad because Otis is a good kid who, to start with anyway, doesn’t seem to be too damaged by his father, but the more he’s around him, the more angry and troubled he becomes.

The scenes of young Otis work better, partly because we’ve already seen the rehab/counselling movie a hundred times (many of them involving Hedges), but also because the dynamic between him and his father is so compelling.

Jupe is outstanding, and LaBeouf really plays up the ability to turn a scene on its head in a heartbeat. He may not get the chance to write something this good again, but if he keeps playing the meaty parts then we can at least be grateful for that.