After years of less than favorable headlines, Shia LaBeouf seeks to turn his much-maligned persona into artistic fodder.
Honey Boy not only stars LaBeouf but was also written by the actor as a way to reclaim some of the power he’s lost over the last several years of eccentric and sometimes troubling behavior. He plays not himself but as James Lort, a fictionalized version of his own father who pushes his son Otis (Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges) into show business, an area James himself has struggled to break into over the years.
The movie, directed by Alma Har’el, follows Otis from his childhood through the young adult years when he is swallowed by the Hollywood entertainment machine, leading to a breakdown that lands him on the tabloid front pages and then into rehab. Through this, Otis tries to reconcile with his estranged father.
A pie flies into Otis’ face on the first one-sheet, meant to convey the ludicrous activities actors will subject themselves to as they attempt to climb the ranks of the industry.
Two more posters came out in September (by marketing agency Gravillas). One shows Otis, his face covered in a creme pie like he’s been the victim of an old time comedy skit while wires are seen attached to his back. The other shows an extreme close up of James, his eyes looking sad behind his glasses and the remnants of white clown paint still visible on his face.
In early October a reversible poster that uses a variation on Comedy/Tragedy masks (by marketing agency La Boca) was released. The dark background makes the electric colors of the masks pop, with each side getting the title treatment and credits as well. It’s a nice way to emphasize the mixed nature of the story and a reminder that the two aspects of storytelling are intertwined and inseparable.
The fourth poster shows a clown standing on his head, juggling with his feet and with a rooster balanced on his butt. It’s an image designed to show just how hard the entertainer is willing to work to keep the audience’s attention, while the colors that seem to drip off the clown’s costume evoke something sad.
When the trailer was released in early August it came in both red- and green-band editions. It opens with an actor on the set of a 2005 action film being pulled by stunt rigging as if he’s flying backward because of an explosion. That’s a none-too-subtle reference to LaBeouf’s own career at that time. That actor’s arrest is followed by a flashback to his childhood, as he receives an unwelcome pep talk from his father. His relationship with that father is an influential part of the boy’s life, but as he becomes more successful than his old man was the dynamic also becomes more unbalanced for both of them.
Online and Social
Nothing much on the movie’s website, which is just focused on making sure you know where and when you can buy tickets to see it.
Advertising and Publicity
The movie’s screening at Sundance was very well received, earning accolades for LaBeouf as both a writer and performer and leading many to comment on how this was the comeback vehicle he needed in his career. Amazon seized on the buzz around the movie to make it one of its many acquisitions at the festival.
The Toronto Film Festival included it in its “Special Presentations” section this year. In August it was announced it would screen at the 63rd BFI London Film Festival.
LaBeouf and Har’el attended a handful of advance screenings for select audiences in the last few weeks to talk about the movie and encourage people to spread some word of mouth.
Media and Press
While the casting was happening and plans were coming together the narrative began to emerge that this was going to be LaBeouf’s comeback vehicle. That really started with a profile where he talked about writing the movie under a pseudonym and more.
While at Sundance he talked about the writing process and the personal story he tapped into, as well as how the script was the result of court-ordered therapy for him. He hit similar themes in interviews during Toronto, later talking about how his management team encouraged him not to go down this road.
Cinematographer Natasha Braier was interviewed about the constant state of uncertainty LaBeouf added to the time- and budget-constrained production and how that kept her on her toes and ready for anything. There was also a joint profile of the actor and director where they talked about their collaboration.
There are several thoughts that come to me after reviewing the campaign from top to bottom.
First, much like any franchise film or legacy sequel, the campaign seems to assume the target audience has some familiarity with the subject of the story. In this case, it seems interesting enough but is firmly targeted at those who have been following LaBeouf’s ups and downs over the last decade, as he went from the darling of the industry to the portrait of the troubled artist.
Second, it has to be stated that the movie being made at all reflects that LaBeouf, despite his issues, still enjoys some pull in Hollywood that seems to come with being a white man. We now have as many movies about LaBeouf’s struggle to overcome his problems as we do about Harriet Tubman’s work to free slaves via the Underground Railroad. The latter took nearly 100 years to finally come to the screen, the former less than 15.
Those points having been made, what works best about the campaign are the posters. The trailer is alright but never really comes together, while the posters carve out a much more clear and intriguing brand identity for the film, using the idea of comedy and tragedy being two halves of the same coin to communicate a key theme of the story to the audience. That’s the strongest non-LaBeouf pitch it has and one that I wish had been continued elsewhere in the marketing.