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Directors of For Sama

Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
Ritesh Batra (Photograph)
Schmidt & Abrantes (Diamantino)
Wanuri Kahiu (Rafiki)
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Sundance: A whole new Shia Labeouf in "Honey Boy"

Abe Fried-Tanzer reporting from Sundance

Shia Labeouf and Noah Jupe, pictured at Sundance, play father and son in "Honey Boy"

Shia LaBeouf’s career hasn’t gone how anyone expected. At age fourteen, he was starring on the popular Disney comedy series Even Stevens. By the time he turned twenty-one, he anchored the movie Disturbia and then blew up as star of the Transformers franchise. More serious performances like the one he delivered in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and his bizarre forays into public self-reflection and public self-destruction provide contradictory images of the actor, who is now thirty-two. 

His best performance to date was in Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, but he may just have outdone himself in his new picture, which he also wrote based on his own experiences. Honey Boy is the feature film debut from respected documentary filmmaker Alma Har’e (Bombay Beach) and LaBeouf is at first almost unrecognizable as a version of his own father...

His character, James, sports long hair and large circular glasses. LaBeouf's voice is deeper, and the way that he speaks reflects the way James sees his life. His twelve-year-old son Otis (Noah Jupe), a fictionalized version of Shia himself, is an actor. When James is not yelling at his neighbors, championing his own four-year sobriety, or trying to flirt with any woman he sees, he serves as his son's manager.

The title conveys a sweetness to the relationship between father and son that is rarely seen outside of that term of endearment. James constantly berates Otis for not appreciating him enough and when Otis reminds James that he is essentially doing his father a favor, James explodes and morphs from coarse and irritated to cruel and irate. The way in which LaBeouf revs up almost without notice is magnificent, and that quick shift is also seen in later scenes featuring an older Otis (Lucas Hedges) who has become so traumatized by his childhood experiences that he has landed in rehab.

Noah Jupe in "Honey Boy"

Pairing LaBeouf with Sasha Lane in American Honey was tremendously rewarding, and having him share most of his scenes here with Jupe works just as superbly. Jupe, a professional actor since the age of 9, making his debut with brief roles on Downton Abbey and Penny Dreadful, is already known to American audiences from fine work in box office hits Wonder and A Quiet PlaceHoney Boy, his best role yet, allows him to demonstrate his true potential in a leading role. Otis's sincerity and his affection for his father are clear, but it’s more than evident that he’s caught in an impossible situation, which in one case finds him repeating hateful sentiments through the phone as a conduit between his father and offscreen mother. Jupe turns fourteen next month – his career is in a very different place than LaBeouf’s was at this point, but the two of them are the strongest assets of this extremely compelling and affecting autobiographical drama.


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Reader Comments (6)

So excited to read about this because I've always thought Shia Labeouf was underappreciated as an actor... and LOVE Noah Jupe. He's been perfect in everything he's done already, in child roles that might have been seemed like nothing much with just a decent actor in them, and he elevates them every time. Had no idea he was British because he always plays American children..

January 27, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Noah Jupe is the BEST!

January 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRod

Great to hear. As Nathaniel says, Noah Jupe seems to do no wrong in any of his roles I've seen him in so far. Glad the streak is still alive with this.

January 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

go Shia. he’s extreemly underrated as an actor

January 27, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterhuh

Noah Jupe should have been nominated for an Oscar for Suburbicon. My fandom for Lucas Hedges is already a matter of public record.

January 27, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

Noah Jupe is like the Emily Blunt of the Critics Choice Best Young Actor/Actress category. He has NEVER received a nomination despite being one of the best young child actors out there!

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterIrvin

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