Honey Boy really is a memoir, honing in on one specific part of LaBeouf's identity: His relationship with his alcoholic, rodeo clown father. In this lightly fictionalized telling, the Shia character is Otis Lort, played as a man by Lucas Hedges and as a kid by A Quiet Place's Noah Jupe in a remarkably layered turn. LaBeouf himself is Otis' dad, James, who hides his receding hairline behind a bandana and spins wild yarns about chickens in a Lousiana drawl. After an opening that invokes some LaBeouf's most notoriously commercial work, the plot shifts back and forth between the elder Otis, in rehab, working through his trauma with a therapist (Laura San Giacomo), and the younger Otis, bouncing between set and near squalor on the back of James' motorcycle.
Child Otis has James on his payroll, but the war vet is tyrannical and competitive with his son. It's literally a dick-measuring contest for him. James isolates Otis from potentially positive influences, like his Big Brother program mentor Tom (Clifton Collins Jr.). He is a taskmaster when it comes to Otis' acting, pushing him to be what he considers funny, and physically abusive when Otis challenges him in any way. There's a touch of magical realism to the film, especially in moments where the ludicrous Even Stevens-esque scenes come crashing into Otis' brutal home life. As James, LaBeouf is at his best -- a funny live wire one minute, a terror the next.
As with any celebrity memoir, there are points where you might question the indulgence of the effort -- a side plot featuring FKA Twigs seems to lean in that direction -- but, on the other hand, LaBeouf doesn't go out of his way to make the adult version of his stand-in seem sympathetic. Hedges' Otis is a self-declared egomaniac, resistant to change.