Ah, fathers and sons. It's
the kind of relationship that defines both of them.
It lives on in both of their memories, long past the interactions.
The vignettes linger like old film clips.
The need for approval. The
conversations. The debates.
The arguments. The
laughs. A turn of phrase, a
gesture, a certain tone inflection. It's
an intertwining, which sometimes feels like embracing, and sometimes like
wrestling, and sometimes one morphs into the other.
Unfortunately, Otis' relationship with his father was highly
volatile, and mostly negative. Otis
at age 12 (Noah Jupe) was already a child film star.
His father, James (Shia LaBeouf), a sometimes mime and rodeo clown,
was a failed actor and an ex-con with an anger management problem, and
also an addict, but somehow he had custody of Otis, and acted as his
transportation to the set (on the back of his motorcycle), and, in the
evening back at the seedy motel, a prompter for line rehearsal.
We never really find out where Mom w9as in all of this.
She's a voice on the phone, and whenever Otis talks to her, James
winds up getting angry all over again.
He's got a hair-trigger temper, that constantly simmers in the
sarcastic. Otis has certainly
learned the signs, and for the most part gets along, but sometime he longs
for a Dad who will actually do things like take him to baseball games.
His Mom had arranged someone from the “Big Brother” program to
do that, but James was incensed at the implication that Otis needed
another father figure in his life.
We fast-forward to Otis as an adult (Lucas Hedges), in a rehab
center, trying to figure out where all his anger is coming from.
He struggles with the therapist implying that he has PTSD over his
relationship with his father. He
resists dredging up the old memories, because they make him distraught,
but at some intuitive level he realizes that this is where he needs the
most work: dealing with the
voice of the Dad who still lives in his head.
And though Otis treasures the few memories of genuine affection, he
also still agonizes over the way James struggled so much psychologically
himself that he wasn't emotionally available to his son, who desperately
needed some normalcy.
We see James fight with his neighbors, storm out of an AA meeting
after hurling invectives and insults at the others, berate the “Big
Brother” figure, and blame everyone else for his own failures. We watch
James grow marijuana beside the highway so the State would water it for
him. We witness James falling
off the wagon and saying things that can't be unsaid.
Meanwhile, the adult Otis shows signs of some of the same inner
rage, the vivid sarcasm, the lashing out in sudden hatred.
Outwardly, Otis is a “success,” but inside, he's in constant
turmoil. Yes, this script is
written by Shia LaBeouf, and is said to be “semi-autobiographical,”
which perhaps means that it's more emotionally literal than factually
verifiable. The performances
of LaBeouf and his younger self, Noah Jupe, are so intense they're
difficult to watch. It's not
at all a fun movie. But it
points out a familial truth that all fathers and sons instinctively know:
we mold each other. For
better or worse.