Directed By Alma Har’el
Starring – Shia LeBeouf, Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges
The Plot – From a screenplay by Shia LaBeouf, based on his own experiences, he brings to life a young actor’s (Jupe) stormy childhood and early adult years as he struggles to reconcile with his father (LeBeouf) through cinema and dreams. Fictionalizing his childhood’s ascent to stardom, and subsequent adult crash-landing into rehab and recovery.
Rated R for pervasive adult language, some sexual material and drug use
– Honorable intentions. It would’ve been easy for this script, written by LeBeouf, to swing a left at self-indulgence boulevard, on his way to the pitiful highway, but there’s a sincerity and sentimentality to his framing, as well as Har’el’s shining direction, that not only values the importance that his father played on his life, for better or worse, but also in outlining the person who we’ve accepted before our very eyes. Never does Shia’s screenplay feel weighed down by the familiarity of films, shows, and real life trouble with authority that is incorporated into the film, nor does the film totally degrade his father to the point of it feeling like an unnecessary exercise in gluttony. Instead, it’s all one big therapeutic experience that singles in on one distinctive time frame, and pulls the lessons and experiences learned from a little boy who was forced to grow up at such a tender and unforgiving age.
– Exceptionally casted. The three male leads could each be considered for awards recognition, and elevate the script to something that really makes these scenes of heavy emotional resonance spring because of their approach to the material. Hedges, who is on-screen the least between the three, gives an endearingly raw performance that bear’s the psychological weight of a time he can’t get back. This is definitely the best work from Hedges to date, as Alma’s influence allows him to express anger in a way that he hasn’t quite mastered previously, and brings forth an overall outline of the star pupil in the film that better helps overlook the differences in likenesses between he and Jupe, and links them for similarities in approach that are fully realized with our time with Hedges version. In addition to him, Jupe gives the very best child performance that I have seen in 2019, and maybe one of the entire decade. Not only is his dialogue delivery articulately delivered for the variety of emotions that each scenes asks of him, but Jupe’s fragility gives forth an abrasive demeanor that transforms him years ahead of his age designation in the film. Speaking of transformation, LeBeouf himself gives what I have deemed the best in a line of already prestigious performances, breaking down walls in enveloping himself as the man who is the root cause for all of this. Shia’s grip on the character captures plenty of problems, but stripped down it’s the echoing love that his character chooses not to express, which brings forth an air of tragedy to his decisions that we’ve come to understand weigh heavily on the little boy who admires him so prominently. LeBeouf is not only lost under a near-mullet wig and big rimmed glasses, but also a dedicated accent, which resulted in several double takes from me just to see if this was the very same actor who I could easily distinguish on vocal capacity alone. He’s easily my pick as of now for Best Supporting Actor at this year’s Oscars.
– Unabashed cinema. Part of what was so appealing to me with this film was the honest approach to storytelling that is anything but catering to politically correct audiences in the 21st century. In this regard, there are no shortage of scenes dealing with violence, child sexuality, and an overall darker side to the child actor home life, which proves that fame can bring plenty, but it doesn’t bring the love that a child so desperately requires. If you’re going to be faithful to what really transpired in LeBeouf’s tortured adolescence, then everything present should be shown, and while the film has no difficulty in attaining the coveted R-rating designation, if only for the ferocity of the language alone, it maintains it in a way that feels authentically rich instead of gripping for the appeal of cinema. It’s something that allows LeBeouf as a screenwriter to capture every essence of the environment captured, and excels because of such an artistic freedom.
– Fantastical imagery. There are a few scenes throughout the movie where an interesting visual will take shape, with little or no exposition to illuminate its intention. This doesn’t go unfulfilled however, as the more we dive into the story and the dynamic between the father and son, the more these images are broken down in a way that gives them mental meaning to the latter’s tortured psychosis. Such examples given involve a chicken that serves as the road to redemption to find what the little boy is missing so apparently, and the father dressed up as a rodeo clown, which for me had multiple meanings in what it represents in Shia’s own personal life. That’s what is so indulging about this film; not only does it affirm the intentions that cements its purpose, but it also leaves enough room for interpretation to see where that could come in other polar opposite scenarios. It never feels pretentious or snarky just because, and pushes the mental ascension gimmick that truly transcends a straight lined reality narrative.
– Fiction versus reality. Perhaps the most compelling story beat to me was the illustration of set life, full of the glitz and glamour of dressing up, and becoming someone entirely different for the little boy, as opposed to reality, which lives and breathes in a flea bag motel, full of questionable characters and seedy intentions surrounding. It alludes to the fact that LeBeouf excels so well in these roles because it allows him the one chance to escape what is inevitable, and while we know this time of temporary relief is just that, it does better help comprehend why some kids are faced with burying themselves so deeply in their work, with the hope of attaining a life that simply isn’t there. Tack on a parental manager full of his own personal demons, and you have a recipe for failure that pushes these kid celebrities to lash-out against the very same figures who could give them a life of riches, but not the love that should come so naturally between protector and cub.
– The cycle continues. Another responsible turn that this exceptional screenplay presents is the perils of abuse and alcoholism, which are handed down from one generation to the next like family heirlooms. As much as this is the little boy’s story, it’s just as much the father’s, as with enough time and hearty exposition, we come to learn that these two distant forces are drawn together with the magnetism of the conflicts that each of them at one time or another have found themselves forced into, and it brings forth an air of a cautionary tale that the older finds is a full circle chance to change the progress of the future. As a flawed antagonist of sorts to the story, this is of course a difficult thing for him to admit aloud and change for the better, but it shows how irresponsibility can manufacture the same demons that don’t end with regret, but instead prosper poisonous influence.
– Visual scope. Cinematographer Natasha Braier, the same visual seductress who entranced us with the neon nightlife of Hollywood in “The Neon Demon”, or humbled us with an Australian outback in “The Rover”, brings forth another enveloping experience, this time through the eyes of a tortured artist whose most influential work is the life that is replayed daily through his every questionable move. Aside from an editing scheme which is intentionally disjointed to play like a collection of memories, instead of a cohesive narrative, the color scheme from Braier combines enough flickering neon’s and sprouting lens flares to always feed into the fantasy mentality that so much of the film is imagined through. This matches the script beat-for-beat as a series of memories, and captures them with a foggy reality for framing presentation that sometimes satisfyingly blurs the lines between fantasy and reality once more.
– My favorite scene. There are plenty to chose here, but certainly the phone call where Jupe is caught in the middle of two bickering parents who are literally and figuratively worlds apart is my choice. This not only highlights why the character is so exceptional with his acting, emoting through the mother’s dialogue when communicating it back to his father, but also evident of the relationship that these two questionable parents have quite literally put him in, which appears as a virtual tug-of-war between the once peaceful family. This scene as well as any conveys the character’s solidification on post-traumatic stress that has engulfed him whole in his home life, but more than any it it illustrates a character in his mother, which proves that the boy’s problems only begin with his father, and lack anyone of positive substance that he can turn to for beneficial clarity.
– Problematic humor. While the comedy in the film is effective in not only articulating the awkwardness of the environment and the disposition of the father/son angle, it occasionally oversteps its boundaries in a way that doesn’t capture the intended tonal direction for particular scenes. This is especially prominent during the first act, where a series of questionable decisions and life lessons are seen through the eyes of a ridiculous delight, thanks to the consistency of the editing, which is often the same rate used in slapstick comedy offerings. It overlooks some of the earlier indications of warning that the audience in my theater were treating as humorous deposits, and should be anything but funny when you consider an actual little human being is in the balance of every dishonorable movement. Thankfully, it does make the line of tonal difference bigger as the film persists, but a few questionable directions early on will force audiences to earn this dramatic tagging a little deeper in the film than they rightfully should.
– Abrupt ending. This is an ending that was satisfying to me in terms of its content and satisfying conclusion, but it does leave a little more to be desired in length, thanks to a brief runtime of 90 minutes, which the film could use more of. Once you understand that this is the film’s endgame with regards to its conflict, the anger is most noticeably missing from what the son character was carrying, only exceeded by a lack of reality, which had me questioning whether this was fantasy or reality. That is obviously the director’s intention with the closing moments, but it’s in the resolution where clarity should be better defined in sending audiences home happy, and rivals “Joker” for most debated ending of the fall movie season. The payoff simply never feels as big as what is built throughout the three acts.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+