Israeli director’s Shia LaBeouf biopic wows Sundance

Alma Har’el brings troubled Jewish actor’s life to the screen in ‘Honey Boy.’

January 27, 2019 16:13
2 minute read.
The cast and crew attend the "Honey Boy" Premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival at Eccles C

The cast and crew attend the "Honey Boy" Premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival at Eccles Center Theatre on January 25, 2019 in Park City, Utah. (photo credit: DIA DIPASUPIL / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)


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It’s getting some of the biggest buzz at the ongoing Sundance Film Festival. And it was directed by an Israeli filmmaker.
Honey Boy, written by Shia LaBeouf and directed by Alma Har’el, debuted this weekend at Sundance to rave reviews. The movie was written by LaBeouf after a stint in rehab following multiple arrests. It is based on the childhood of the Jewish-born actor and his relationship with his father. LaBeouf reached out to Har’el with the script, and she was immediately interested.

“He wrote the script and sent it to me from rehab, and when I read it I was really blown away by it and felt like I have to do it,” Har’el told The Hollywood Reporter in a video interview on Saturday. “When we did the film itself, and the filming itself, Shia was literally entering his childhood trauma but this time playing his father, and kind of having to have the empathy for that.”

LaBeouf a native of Los Angeles, California, has generated many headlines over the past few years for his erratic behavior, including several arrests, multiple scuffles and questionable public remarks. In January 2017, the actor – who was born to a Jewish mother and Christian father – shoved a man who came up to him and said “Hitler did nothing wrong.” Later that year the actor was caught on video making an racist, expletive-filled rant at a police officer.

LaBeouf, who first became famous as a teen on the Disney show Even Stevens, recounts his troubled childhood in the film Honey Boy, where he portrays his father.

Har’el and LaBeouf first came into contact back in 2012, after the actor saw the director’s documentary film Bombay Beach, and wanted to meet her. The two stayed in contact over the years, and LaBeouf turned to Har’el to direct this incredibly personal film.

“When we met, we found out that both of our fathers were alcoholics,” Har’el told Deadline. “I really connected with him and we felt like we should work together... I was so blown away when he sent [the script] to me from rehab, in realizing how everything he did led to where he was... He didn’t write this to be a film. He went to rehab because he was court ordered to, and there he was literally court ordered to write his memories as part of his therapy.”

Har’el, a native of Tel Aviv, got her start making commercials and music videos, including for Balkan Beat Box, Beirut and Sigur Rós (with a video starring LaBeouf). Her 2011 documentary Bombay Beach and 2016 film LoveTrue both won critical acclaim.

And the Sundance audience gave Har’el, LaBeouf and young star Noah Jupe a standing ovation after the premiere of Honey Boy this weekend.

“Har’el is a major talent who has demonstrated... the poetic ability to look past surface judgments of struggling lower-class Americans and register what is universal about their experience,” wrote Variety in its review. “Honey Boy offers a sincere window into the actor’s soul: a vulnerable, honest (or at least honest-seeming) act of therapy through screenwriting.”

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