Masculinity in Shia Labeouf’s “Honey Boy”

Shia LaBeouf’s turbulent professional and personal life has often been written off as symptoms of child stardom. We’ve seen it with Macaulay Culkin, Lindsey Lohan, and now LaBeouf—actors said to have struggled with the harsh reality of fame at such a young age. In Labeouf’s new semi-autobiographical film, Honey Boy, he proves that it’s much more than child fame that’s been haunting him—it’s the toxic relationship and masculinity that’s he’s endured from his father. 

Written by LaBeouf in court-mandated therapy, Honey Boy is a wakeup call that exposes the long-term harm done to boys by emotional distance. After being arrested and sent to rehab, Otis (Lucas Hedges) begins his journey to mandatory treatment. Told that he has PTSD, Otis is forced to reflect on his childhood in therapy to better understand his addiction, pain, and anger. Otis’ youth is shown through the eyes of his 12-year-old self (played by Noah Jupe), revealing his dysfunctional relationship with his father, James Lort, played by Shia Labeouf himself.

Honey Boy reminds us that the mask of hypermasculinity, rage, and isolation is often generational. Tormented by drug use and his abusive relationship with his own parents, Otis’ Vietnam veteran father regularly denies him affection. He refuses to hold Otis’ hand, teases Otis about his 12-year-old boyhood, and doesn’t allow Otis to cry in front of him. Taught to hide his emotions, Otis struggles to open up even in therapy.

Sadly, it’s far too common for boys who were not allowed to express themselves to become men who struggle to cope with their emotions. Faced with the dilemma of hiding their inner lives, many men turn to unhealthy vices like drugs, alcohol, and even violence. With a timely release during this Men’s Health Month, Labeouf’s story shows that giving boys “tough love” does not produce healthy men. 

Directed by Alma Ha’rel, Honey Boy offers the type of intimacy in a role that Labeouf did not seem to be afforded in his youth. It’s too easy to say that Shia LaBeouf’s recent fall from grace was money and fame, when it’s evident that the “man box” has troubled him for so long.

Take Action! See Honey Boy in theaters and consider the issues around masculinity that Shia Lebeouf tackles in the film. And since it’s Men’s Health Month, bring a friend or family member with you and discuss healthy manhood!