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Simon Boccanegra

Honey Boy (2019)

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From a screenplay by Shia LaBeouf, based on his own experiences, award-winning filmmaker Alma Har'el brings to life a young actor's stormy childhood and early adult years as he struggles to reconcile with his father through cinema and dreams. Fictionalizing his childhood ascent to stardom, and subsequent adult crash-landing into rehab and recovery, Har'el casts Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges as Otis Lort, navigating different stages in a frenetic career. LaBeouf takes on the daring and therapeutic challenge of playing a version of his own father, an ex-rodeo clown and a felon. Artist and musician FKA twigs makes her feature acting debut, playing neighbor and kindred spirit to the younger Otis in their garden-court motel home. Har'el's feature narrative debut is a one-of-a-kind collaboration between filmmaker and subject, exploring art as therapy and imagination as hope. (Rotten Tomatoes blurb)

I just caught up with this. It's easy to see both why it has a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and why it's not on many best-of-year lists or getting much awards attention. On paper, it invites cheap shots (a troubled actor who isn't even 35 is already writing and starring in his own self-pitying show-biz memoir?), but then it turns out to be a substantive, seemingly heartfelt film. It's also a flawed one. 

It begins and ends with high points. Har'el has directed music videos, and she puts her skills to good use with the opening montage. The 22-year-old Otis (Hedges) repeatedly yells "No" before getting yanked backward on a harness during the making of a Transformers-type film. Then, to a hip-hop score, he walks off the set and there is a scramble of drinking alone in his trailer, sex, more film-set business, a car accident, an arrest. It's hard to tell what in this montage is is taking place in the "outer" film versus the "inner" one (sometimes we're fooled), and that's the point. There isn't really a line between acting and real life for Otis anymore, if there ever was. We're joining him in progress at a point where it all just passes in a haze. 

Then, the movie's ending is a kind of reconciliation that provides a payoff for some symbolism, and it is imaginatively and lyrically done.

About what comes between, I had reservations. The actors all try hard, Jupe gives a great child performance, and Har'el (her first feature) expends a lot of style to make it more than a been-there-done-that downer about stage parents and substance abuse. But for a relatively short film (1 hour, 34 minutes), it isn't exactly lean and purposeful. It tends to meander and repeat itself, and the shuffling between 1995 and 2005, as well as a heavy use of dream and fantasy imagery, short-circuits the narrative momentum in both halves. Both the father/son Lort relationship in the depressing motel and the adult Otis's stay at a rehab facility (where his therapist is Laura San Giacomo and his roommate is Byron Bowers) have a basic shape to them that we can see looking back, but scenes don't satisfyingly build upon each other. The film just cues us to its major points. It evokes sympathy for Otis and complex feelings about his father, James; it says something worthwhile about familial cycles of toxicity; but it isn't as resonant or affecting as it might have been. It's elusive, watery. 

I can only give this a soft recommendation. Perhaps one to wait to stream or rent, unless you have an especially keen interest in the subject or are a big fan of someone in it. 

Edited by Simon Boccanegra
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