Honey Boy (2019) is a low budget character-based story. It’s what used to be called an ‘indie movie’, produced outside of the Hollywood studio system. These kinds of films follow he tropes of literary fiction and artistic expression (the protagonist's experience rather than a plot-driven narrative).
In this case, Honey Boy was released by Amazon Studios. So, while it’s technically outside the Hollywood studio system it’s the product of a large corporation. The film had a limited release in cinemas. It’s ultimately destined to end up on Amazon Prime Video. It cost $3.5 million to produce and it recouped $3.3 million at the box office. This is before DVD and streaming sales, plus the ‘cost’ of buying it for Prime Video. So, I’m guessing although it wasn’t a runaway success financially, on Amazon's terms it is a successful film. And, speaking as a viewer, the films feels like a lot of bang for the buck.
The problem with Honey Boy is that it flits between two stories. I came away without feeling like either of the stories had been satisfactorily explored or resolved.
The unlikable father is a problematic figure. But we never experience the drama that formed him. The real story about him has occurred outside of the film. For him, this is the aftermath.
The boy’s story feels like the moment before his real story. The most dramatic part of his story also feels like it occurs outside of the film’s scope. Because of this, neither character's story feels satisfying. And a third character, the boy’s mother, doesn’t even feature in the film (except, briefly, in a phone call — and then we don’t even see her).
The desire for realism, to recapture what happened, as a story of self-therapy, an autobiography — cathartic fiction — in films like Honey Boy, and The Souvenir (2019) can hinder the sense of fictional drama.
I get why.
Honey Boy is an autobiographical story. But it’s worth noting that, many writers, especially when they’re starting off (including myself), are held back by a desire for autobiographical verisimilitude. It can get in the way of telling a fictional story. Ironically, a more authentic story (in terms of the writer’s own self-reference) can be less satisfying for a reader or audience.