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It’s kind of hard not to have some sort of an opinion about Shia LaBeouf. Sure, we tend to have opinions when it comes to many within the sphere of celebrity, but LaBeouf is a particular case because we know him from so many things and not all of them are positive.

Where to start? He was a notable child actor on projects like ABC’s Even Stevens and the 2003 flick Holes and blew us all away with his action work on Transformers, which is around the time that he (and Megan Fox) became household names. But then there are all of his run-ins with the law. They started early (he was just nine years old when he was picked up for stealing a pair of shoes in California) and continued through an arrest for drunk driving in 2008, a bar fight in 2011, that awful arrest on Broadway while watching Alan Cummings and Michelle Williams perform Cabaret in 2014 and a drunken altercation and arrest with Georgia police in 2017.

Artistic reinvention

That’s quite a rap sheet for a 33-year-old, one that doesn’t even include the accusations of plagiarism he’s also faced, but it goes even deeper than that. Remember a few years ago when LaBeouf entered his performance art/activist phase and performed his one-man art piece #IAMSORRY? He sat silently at a Los Angeles gallery with a paper bag on his head and enticed the public to come and stare at him, which ended with his alleged sexual assault.

He also hired a skywriting plane to etch “I’m sorry” in the clouds and wore that same #IAMSORRY paper bag that read “I am not famous anymore” to a Berlin film premiere, and he’s taken to social media to quote tons of other famous people’s apologies. And that’s all before he said he was retiring from public life and appearing with Maddie Ziegler in that controversial Sia video for her track “Elastic Heart” that some felt was too sexually suggestive.

Oy.

The age of Honey Boy

So at a press screening during the Toronto International Film Festival for Honey Boy, the movie LaBeouf wrote, we honestly didn’t know what to expect. LaBeouf penned the semi-autobiographical story of a child actor and his “guardian” father while he was in therapy following his 2017 outbursts, and we have to say that the finished project was pretty damned heavy.

Honey Boy spans about a decade as it follows 12-year-old Otis, a sweet boy who lives in a motel complex with his recovering addict of a father, and a grown-up version of Otis, a famous action star who is forced into therapy following a third altercation with the police. Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges share the role of Otis, while LaBeouf himself throws on a mullet and a potbelly to play his father, James.

Noah Jupe in a scene from 'Honey Boy'
Noah Jupe in a scene from ‘Honey Boy’ (Courtesy of TIFF)

We don’t want to spoil anything, but there was plenty of chatter following the screening about the experience of watching the movie. Considering a lot of it explores the relationship between LaBeouf and his father we can certainly see why (we’re still digesting how we feel about it, TBH), but we also imagine it was the most therapeutic thing that LaBeouf could have done for himself.

Think about it. Not only was this a screenplay that the actor wrote while he was at his most vulnerable, self-exploring self, but he also played his own father. That means getting into dear old Dad’s shoes, metaphorically and spiritually, and trying to find compassion and empathy for someone that he clearly has issues with. It’s a lot for anybody, let alone someone trying to find himself while the media watches.

We’re definitely looking at LaBeouf in a new light right now and we’re even hopeful that he’s on a newfound path of self-acceptance he’s been so publicly craving for all these years. Between Honey Boy and his other buzzworthy project, The Peanut Butter Falcon alongside Dakota Johnson and Zack Gottsagen, and it seems like 2019 may finally be the year that LaBeouf is turning himself around.

Here’s hoping, anyhow.

Honey Boy debuts in theatres Nov. 8. The 44th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5-15, 2019.