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Movie Review

Early exposure to fame has caused many child stars to go off the rails as they transition from adolescence into adulthood. Honey Boy tells the story of Otis, a now-grown former child actor who’s sent to rehab after one too many drunken encounters with the police.

In rehab, Otis is diagnosed with PTSD. “From what?” he asks his therapist. Flashing back to his youth, we see that Otis spent a fair amount of time on film sets, performing stunts and cracking jokes—certainly nothing that could obviously be classified as “traumatic.”

However, the young man’s relationship with his dad, a former rodeo clown and felon, was anything but healthy. While his dad chaperoned him on film sets, helped him develop his acting skills and taught him how to juggle, he also gave Otis his first cigarette at 12 years old, spoke poorly about Otis’ mom and physically assaulted Otis’ mentor, Tom, from the Big Brother program.

As more and more of Otis’ story unfolds, his PTSD triggers become quite apparent, and he starts searching for a way to overcome them.

Positive Elements

When he first arrives at his court-ordered rehab, Otis is resistant and skeptical of the treatment plan created for him. He criticizes his counselors, mocks group exercises and generally avoids all forms of therapy since he doesn’t believe any of it will help. However, his therapist is persistent and manages to get Otis to recall events from his childhood. She points out the toxic relationship with his father. And while he claims that his dad isn’t the reason he drinks but the reason he works, Otis eventually accepts what his therapist is telling him and starts following the instructions of his counselors.

In a conversation between Tom and Otis’ father, Tom explains that he mentors through the Big Brother program because life wasn’t always easy for him and he wants to pay it forward. At one point, Otis’ dad physically assaults and threatens Tom. But Tom ensures that Otis is well-cared for and helps arrange passports for Otis and his dad so that Otis can star in a movie in Canada.

Otis befriends a teenage girl who lives at the same motel as him. They silently bond over their abusive situations and comfort one another when their parents are rough on them. The people who work on movie sets with Otis as a child are kind to him and compliment his work despite his dad’s obnoxious behavior.

Otis eventually forgives his father for the childhood trauma he caused and writes a screenplay to document their relationship and his eventual recovery.

Spiritual Content

Otis’ dad tells people at an AA meeting that he found God while he was in jail and that he is grateful to God for giving him the chance to redeem himself and take care of Otis.

A man at an AA meeting says he believes that God builds people with a question that only they can answer. Otis’ dad scoffs at this and tells the man to reread “The Book” (meaning the Bible).

When Otis’ rehab roommate asks why he doesn’t pray before eating, Otis jokes that it’s because he prays after. While watching a snake glide over the top of the water in a pool, a girl says, “You can walk on water until someone tells you [that] you don’t know how to.” Someone likens marijuana to God.

Otis tells his therapist that the suggestion to scream was helpful because it felt as if he had released a demon.

Sexual Content

Topless dancers at a strip club are seen from the side. A man stands naked during a medical exam and covers himself with his hands. Several male characters are seen shirtless. A teenage girl is repeatedly criticized for wearing revealing tops. People wear swimsuits at a pool. A man is naked in a bathtub (though nothing critical is seen).

A man and woman make out. A teenage girl (slightly older than the 12-year-old Otis) kisses him on the cheek and he kisses her back. He removes his shirt and they cuddle on his bed. He pays her for this encounter, and it is suggested that it happens several more times since his dad eventually walks in on them lying in bed. He accuses the girl of having sex with Otis, but Otis says, “She’s just friendly.”

Otis’ dad tries to flirt with a teenage girl. It is later revealed that he was once arrested as a sex offender. Rape and gay relationships are also mentioned.

Violent Content

Otis’ dad is physically abusive. He hits Otis, holds him down and throws lit cigarettes at him. He threatens Tom and throws him into a pool. A teenage girl slaps a grown man to escape him.

A man claims that his mother’s girlfriend physically abused him as a child. He also says that his mother died when she fell out of window onto the freeway. A man wrecks his car and then resists the police when they arrest him for drinking while intoxicated.

On a film set, fake explosions and stage fighting take place. A man slams a door in anger. A boy throws bricks at a car in a junkyard.

A guy drives his son to work on a motorcycle despite the boy nearly falling off on the back of the bike. He also nearly wrecks while leaving a parking lot. Later, two men ride a motorcycle without protective helmets.

Crude or Profane Language

The f-word is used more than 150 times (with about a dozen of those uses preceded by “mother”), and the s-word is used about 55 times. “D--n,” “d---it,” “p---,” “h---,” “b--ch” and “p---y” are each heard once or twice each, and the n-word is also heard three times. God’s name is misused nine times (five of which are paired with “d---it”).

Otis’ dad makes several crude comments about sex, male anatomy, pornography and the type of women he can attract to his son. A child uses a crude hand gesture.

Drug and Alcohol Content

As an adult, Otis lands in rehab after he wrecks his car and gets arrested for being drunken and disorderly. He smokes cigarettes throughout the film, both as an adult and as a child. He receives his first pack of cigarettes from his dad (also a smoker) and shares them with the girl he has a crush on. His dad also gives him his first marijuana joint.

Otis’s dad claims to be four years sober at an AA meeting, but he’s later seen smoking cocaine at a strip club and illegally growing marijuana on the side of the highway.

A man at an AA meeting shares his story about coming from a line of alcoholics and his own experience with alcohol, marijuana and cocaine. Adults drink alcohol at a party. A woman throws her drink in a man’s face when he screams at her for being too loud.

Other Negative Elements

As a child, Otis doesn’t have many good role models. His dad accompanies him on film sets and helps him develop his acting skills because he “believes” in his son’s success. However, he only does this so he can take credit for Otis’ successes and live vicariously through him. The few moments where he demonstrates appropriate parenting are just for show so that he looks like a “good” dad. His own career as a rodeo clown ended when he went to prison, and he harbors a resentment towards Otis for “making it.” This results in the verbal, emotional and sometimes physical abuse of Otis.

Otis’ absentee mom isn’t much better. She signed Otis up for the Big Brother program so that he could have a healthy male to look up to. But apart from the occasional phone call, she doesn’t have much of a presence in Otis’ life.

Otis both craves a relationship with his deadbeat dad and looks down on him for not being a “real dad.” Otis tries bonding with him through acting, juggling and even smoking. But when his father inevitably lets him down or embarrasses him, he talks back to his dad and puts him down. He begs the older man to try harder, pointing out how he hired his dad as a favor since nobody else would hire a felon.

A rodeo clown performs an act where he does somersaults while a chicken walks across his body from his head to his rear and back again. A man vomits offscreen into a toilet. Two men clean a chicken coop, and one finds excrement on a chicken egg. A urine sample is seen.

During a fight over the phone, a child is forced to repeat the words of his mother to his father and vice versa. (This conversation involves several curse words and harsh accusations from one parent to the other.) A woman yells at her daughter in public. Otis’ dad screams at people throughout the movie. A man tells his son not to cry in front of him.

A boy says that everyone lies, and his father denies it. (The man is later revealed to have stolen his AA stories from other members and lying to make them his own.) A child steals snacks from a film set. A cream pie is thrown at a boy’s face for a scene.

Conclusion

Otis’ life as a child star and his eventual stay in rehab as an adult are based on events from the life of actor and writer Shia LaBeouf. LaBeouf rose to fame during his time as one of the stars of the show Even Stevens (which ran from 2000 to 2003).

Just like Otis and his dad, LaBeouf was chaperoned by his former rodeo clown father and lived in a motel while filming the show. As an adult, he also got into a car wreck and was arrested for his drunken behavior in 2017. He then went to rehab, and it was there that Honey Boy was born.

LaBeouf wrote the screenplay as part of his therapy and has described the process of turning it into a movie as “freeing.” Likewise, by the time the credits roll on this film, Otis, too, has found his own sense of freedom. But this former child star’s path to redemption is obviously a painful one, filled with excesses and extremes onscreen that make his journey a wincing one to watch.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

Shia LaBeouf as James Lort; Lucas Hedges as Otis (22); Noah Jupe as Otis (12); Byron Bowers as Percy; Laura San Giacomo as Dr. Moreno; FKA Twigs as Shy Girl; Clifton Collins Jr. as Tom

Director

Alma Har’el ( )

Distributor

Amazon Studios

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

November 8, 2019

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Emily Baker

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
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