Honey Boy review – the Shia LaBeouf renaissance begins here

<span>Photograph: AP</span>
Photograph: AP

If there’s a LaBeoufaissance to be had – of whatever duration – then this may be the starting point. Honey Boy is a fluent, heartfelt, tightly structured and well acted personal story starring Shia LaBeouf, who reportedly drafted the script in rehab. The director is the Israeli-American film-maker Alma Har’el, and this tale of lost souls in trailer parks is a little like the scenarios conjured in her 2011 documentary Bombay Beach.

The drama is based on LaBeouf’s own unhappy early life as a young actor who got into trouble with the unholy addiction trinity: drink, drugs and celebrity. Lucas Hedges plays a star, here renamed Otis, who has just sulkily accepted rehab as an alternative to jail after his latest boozy bust-up with the cops.

His modest shared room with another patient reminds him of the scuzzy motel room he used to share as a child actor with his divorced recovering alcoholic dad James, a former soldier and fairground entertainer with a violent temper who was his paid chaperone when Otis was filming a kids’ TV show nearby. Also: the swimming therapy at the rehab centre reminds Otis of the motel pool where one of James’s scariest outbursts took place. Flashbacks interweave with the present-day situation.

The younger Otis is played with style and grace by Noah Jupe, and the mythologised dad is played, perhaps inevitably, by LaBeouf, as a fast-talking, temperamental, charming but destructive and unreliable guy who nicknames his son “Honey Boy”, and is full of enraged jealousy at his son’s growing stardom.

This looks on paper like a self-aggrandising vanity project, but it is very well directed and performed. As ever with this kind of movie, there is a subsidiary pleasure in wondering how reality has been transformed. Could it be that LaBeouf’s dad was not quite as needy, charismatic and voluble as he is depicted here, and that the screenwriter has projected some of himself on to his dad? (James is not dissimilar to the character LaBeouf played in Andrea Arnold’s American Honey.)

Also, young Otis has an intense but essentially innocent moment in the trailer park with a beautiful older girl, played by the actor and musician FKA twigs. Was this based on a situation that was less innocent and with someone older?

This movie could form part of an interesting double bill with Carrie Fisher’s Postcards from the Edge, about her own recovery and parent issues.

• Honey Boy is released in the UK on 6 December and in Australia on 27 February.