Laura, I have not seen the movie, although it's high atop my To Watch list. The script has an interesting history as LaBouef used the Black List and ScreenCraft reader coverage to develop the story over an extended period of time. It was recommended be readers on the Black List website and I believe that helped get the project set up.
There are a lot of choices LaBoeuf makes that defy conventional wisdom, the most notable one: that father and son would heal themselves and bond. They do bond in a way, but does James really change? I don't think so. Young Otis changes to a degree, but as we see with mature Otis, not in what we might call a 'successful' way, witness him getting busted three times for a DUI.
And yet, the story works. This is yet another story which goes against conventional expectations and works as its own thing.
It actually reminds me of Manchester by the Sea in that both father figures simply can't get their act together as responsible parents. James is much more of a fuck up than Lee (in Manchester), but the end point for both characters in terms of their arc is that they do *not* end up in a positive place, at least as mainstream Hollywood would dictate.
In Honey Boy, Young Otis does get to a point where he conveys his deepest expression of need: “I’ve always been waiting for you to act like a real dad. You haven’t done that one time. … I’ve missed you for a long time, dad.” James gives what he's capable of, which isn't much relative to what we would consider good parenting to be. Indeed, turning on his young son to pot which is essentially the end point of their relationship toward the conclusion of the story is, I think, James' way of clouding Otis' memory of who James is. "Get him stoned, perhaps he'll think better of me."
I look forward to analyzing the script this week. It's a simple plot with complex characters. As you note, Laura, characters can change their minds, do a 180 degree shift. It makes for a more challenging story to write and for an audience to lean into, but it can make for compelling storytelling.
Thanks for your observations!