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The 2022 Sundance Film Festival runs from Jan. 20 - 30, in Park City, Utah

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"Honey Boy" - Review

The U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Vision and Craft winner, Honey Boy was the true winner of Sundance. No movie will come out of the festival with more hype than Honey Boy. This heart wrenching, semi-biographical account of fatherly abuse touched the hearts of many. It screened to multiple standing ovations and was nearly impossible to watch with packed tents full of eager cinephiles lined up in hopes of seeing Shia LaBeouf’s latest masterpiece. Personally, I tried a total of four times and just barely got in on my last attempt when a miracle happened and someone gave me their ticket while I waited in an overflow line.

Alma Har’el delivers her first feature film with an artistic bang. She was discovered by Labeouf somehow while he was lingering in Amoeba records. I’m not totally sure how he found her documentary there, but his keen eye for talent is clear as he pulled an absolute diamond out of the ruff. Her first feature felt like something only a seasoned director could accomplish. The emotion is subtle but impactful. The cinematic approach created tension between subjects that stimulate the audience's sympathy for even the most unforgiving moments. She taps into the pain in a way that forces those watching to relate. If not for Labeouf, watch this movie for a fresh female director with massive potential.

The film takes place in two timelines. It follows Otis, a reimagined Shia LaBeouf, in a present-day setting and as a past self in the form of flashbacks while the present day Otis revisits his traumatic past in a series of therapy sessions during his stint at rehab. The film is a well-executed, self-reflexive piece. LaBeouf lets his vulnerability run wild as he plays a reimagined version of his father that he says his own father was not too happy about. The synthesis of these characters creates a microcosm representative of the all too relatable experience of childhood trauma.

The current day Otis is played ferociously by Lucas Hedges. Hedges carries with him a heavy burden of trauma that translates to heavy drinking and salacious behavior leaving everyone around him, including himself, in danger. His frustrations clearly stem from his relationship with his father and with it comes a host of issues which includes his self-diagnosed inferiority complex and narcissistic tendencies. He responds to every challenge with discomfort and rage. He is unable to articulate his emotions much more than through anger. His angst and existential confusion weigh on him so heavily that the crowd can’t help but sympathize. These consistent fits of anger make his moments of happiness that much more felt.

The true star of the show was in the performance of the young Otis, played by Noah Jupe. The maturity exhibited by the young actor feels like the next big star has been discovered. He carries the emotional burden of his scenes with a grace not many can pull off. The way he answered questions in the Q&A session was both insightful and methodical. In many ways, he seemed like a more mature counterpart to Shia’s unpredictable persona. Many of his scenes are romanticized, pantomiming with Shia’s real-life girlfriend FKA Twigs. The passion that he exhibits in these moments is far beyond his years. He is a man of many faces in this film. His scenes with his father ride an emotional line most men can relate to. Often it is hard for young men to say the words they feel need to be said to their fathers in a way that their fathers can hear. And often, fathers are just incapable of hearing their sons concerns constructively. For many, that is an impossible process and that struggle is felt heavily throughout the narrative. Pain and love course through this young man’s veins as he learns about the cold hard truths of the world long before any kid should.

FKA Twigs is the cherry on the top of a cake thrown in the face of the beloved clown that is Shia LaBeouf. His story is equal parts fortunate and humiliating. In a way, FKA Twigs serves as a metaphor for this. What young boy wouldn’t want the affection of a gorgeous, mysterious woman? But, the trauma that comes with growing up too fast comes with a price. Her performance glides from frame to frame with a gracefulness that her true fans have come to love.

Many fathers have failed their sons. This film doesn’t try to just complain about that fact. Rather, it teaches those affected by shitty fathers, that in order to heal you must look within. You must understand and locate the trauma in order to conquer it. Part of that process comes from accepting the way in which you were wronged while appreciating what he did right. Without pain and trauma, one does not become a complete human being. It is all part of a growing and learning process so that we as sons do not repeat the mistakes of our disappointing fathers. Resentment does nothing more than create a poison in your soul and ultimately what this film does is show its audience that there is another way.

Written by: Cameron Lui


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