Sunday Nibble #25: A Tale of Two Biopics

Lockdown and Amazon Prime have actually gotten me back to watching films, and to recent flicks resonate so strongly with each other that it’s amazing. One is Elton John’s biopic Rocketman. The other is Shia LaBeouf’s biopic Honey Boy, and both of them are just amazing deep dives into self-revelation from two men who lost a lot to addiction but then dug out of it.

The big difference between them, though, is that Elton is a generally beloved person and always has been, while Shia has somehow been heaped with hate, and I don’t get the latter bit.

When he did his #iamsorry performance art piece in L.A., I really tried to make it through the crowds to get in there, but didn’t. The idea was that each guest would be led individually into a room where Shia sat at a wooden table with a paper bag that read, “I am not famous anymore” over his head. There were a bunch of things on the table relating to various of his movies.

The idea that anyone who came in could do whatever they wanted to him with what was before him and, apparently, at least one shitty patron raped him.

Anyway, had I made it in, I would have pulled that bag off his head and told him, “Dude, you’re not a shit person. You’re an artist. Sometimes it’s tough. And I know that you intend to not speak during this, but that’s okay. You’re an actor. You have value.”

But here’s the really big difference between both men: Elton chose to become a performer. He wanted to take music lessons, and become a rock star, and he dragged his family into it. Meanwhile, Shia just wanted to be a kid, but his alcoholic trainwreck of a father instead used his kid to try to live out his Hollywood dreams, and it took a major toll.

And, extreme bonus points here: Elton doesn’t show up in his own biopic until the very end, and only as himself. Meanwhile, Shia takes the much riskier route of diving headfirst into playing the absolute source of his own addictions and troubles. That is, in Honey Boy, Shia plays his own father, and he does not pull a single punch or knock off a blemish.

Sure, he humanizes him and gives a sincere and compelling performance. At the same time, every single second he’s on screen as his own father, we just want to punch his fucking face and save his son, Otis, aka Honey Boy, from his own insincerity and arrogance, and OMG does Shia get this in spades.

This is the kind of hard-edged, honest bio that only someone who has been through rehab can create, and it’s basically stated half-way through the movie. Paraphrasing, it’s only when you hit your lowest that you can share what will save others from the same.

In the film, Otis got it. Dad? I’m  not so sure. And neither is Shia. But, by the end of Honey Boy… adult Shia offers both absolution and condemnation — not just for his dad, but for himself, and you can’t get anymore more goddamn honest than that in a biopic. Ever.

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