Thursday, December 12, 2019

On HONEY BOY and POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE

This is a film that could've also been titled THE MAN WITH THE CHICKEN ON HIS BUTT. Last month, I wrote a blog post review of THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON, a new film that I thoroughly enjoyed. Starring Shia LaBeouf, it's the story of a very unlikely friendship. LaBeouf plays an outsider in North Carolina who strikes up a friendship with a young man who has Down syndrome. They travel down the river like a couple of Mark Twain characters. What enriches the film is that the character with Down syndrome was played by a new actor who really has Down syndrome. HONEY BOY is not a biopic, but the screenplay was written by Shia LaBeouf and inspired by his real-life dysfunctional family experiences. This is the story of a sour father-son relationship. The 12 year-old kid is occasionally called "Honey Boy" by his single father, a domineering and irresponsible man. He's an Army vet who entered rehab for drugs and alcohol. His 12 year-old son is a TV actor. The kid is currently working on a project and has to get up for work at 4am. He acts more like a mature adult that his father does.
The movie opens with an action scene. We see a handsome young man, seemingly 20-something, having survived a major airline mishap. An explosion hurls him into the air. We see that he's attached to a line wire. Then he's returned to his original spot. We realize that this is part of a film being shot. The young actor, the star of the film, heads back to his trailer. There, he dallies in recreational substances. He dallies too much. Under arrest, he's in the back of a cop car screaming "Why am I here? Why am I here?" Then, he's in rehab with a therapist. This is the grown Otis, a Hollywood film actor who now drinks like his father did. In flashbacks, Otis (played by Lucas Hedges) recalls his miserable adolescent life. He dodges doing the emotional work in therapy. Otis says, "I'm an egomaniac with an inferiority complex." Eventually, his turbulent childhood memories surface.
The father was a hot mess of a guardian while little Otis is working. The two lived in a bleak motel. Shia LaBeouf is good as the father but his character is such a verbally and physically abusive jerk that you wish little Otis would haul off the slap him back. The father was in rehab but never seemed to learn any lessons. He's still irresponsible, cussing his little boy out and making him learn how to smoke. And then there's the moment when dad dresses up like a clown. While doing clown antics, he has a live chicken on his butt. Dad once said to little Otis, "You come from a line of alcoholics, son..." When grown Otis comes to terms with all this -- and the chicken -- he'll begin to heal.
The opening scene, when we realize the high drama we see is really a movie shoot, reminded me of the opening scene in 1990's POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE. Mike Nichols directed that film, Meryl Streep starred as the talented Hollywood film and TV actress who has to enter rehab. The screenplay was by Carrie Fisher.  POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE centers on a colorful mother-daughter relationship. Both are actresses, both have their addictions, both can work each other's last good nerve. Yet both love each other deeply. POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE was inspired by Carrie Fisher's real-life experiences.
I'd interviewed the fabulous Fisher on my old VH1 talk show. I read POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE, her first novel, before I saw the film adaptation. I feel now as I did then -- Carrie Fisher should have been an Oscar nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay. Her first screenplay, based on her first novel, was witty and wonderful.

I had dinner with two friends of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, when the film had just been cast. They'd read the screenplay and had high praise for it. The two gentlemen had seen my VH1 interviews of Carrie and Debbie. They told me Carrie's screenplay had the characters from the novel, but it was different from the novel. So different that Carrie wanted to title the screenplay HOLLYWOOD AND VINE. Mike Nichols vetoed that idea. In the book, the movie star mother of actress Suzanne Vale is only in about ten pages. Suzanne's grandmother was the more prominent character. For the screenplay, Carrie dug into her real life relationship and made the mother's role larger than in the book. My dinner companions told me "There's a staircase argument scene in the script that's really good. It's not in the book. It's based on an argument Carrie and Debbie really had once at the old house."
The staircase scene went on to become one of the most famous -- and most quoted -- scenes of the movie. The Hollywood mother and daughter were played by Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.
I wish HONEY BOY was as good as POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE. If Shia LaBeouf's relationship with his father was truly that stormy, Heaven bless him for having survived it. Lucas Hedges is a fine actor. The proof is in LADY BIRD, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA and BOY ERASED. This film may frustrate Lucas Hedges fans because there's so little for him to do. Most of the action is in the flashbacks. Young Noah Jupe is very good as little Otis.  Alma Har'el directed HONEY BOY, a feature that feels fueled on heartbreak and anger. From Amazon Studios, it runs 95 minutes.


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The hit man Robert De Niro plays in Martin Scorsese 's THE IRISHMAN says, "You don't know how fast time goes by until you ...