A young actor’s stormy childhood and early adult years as he struggles to reconcile with his father and deal with his mental health.
In 2005, Otis Lort (Lucas Hedges) is a movie star who has an extreme alcohol problem. He crashes his car and gets into a violent, drunken altercation with police. He is forced to go to a rehab facility, where his counselor, Dr. Moreno (Laura San Giacomo), tells him that if he leaves the facility before they say he is ready the court will send him to prison for his violent offenses. She says that based on what she’s found Otis has PTSD, which he denies repeatedly, but she encourages him to look into his past.
In 1995, Otis (Noah Jupe) is a working child actor, who is accompanied on set by his father, James (Shia LaBeouf), a former rodeo clown. James is four years sober but clearly on edge and unpredictable, manic and aggressive. The two live in a terrible apartment complex where a Shy Girl (FKA Twigs) lives across from them. Otis is in the Big Brother program at the behest of his mother, despite James’s dislike and jealousy. Otis wants to go to a baseball game with Tom (Clifton Collins Jr.) from the program, and James agrees if Tom comes over for a barbecue.
In 2005, Otis deals with his rehab roommate Percy (Byron Bowers) and continued therapy. He resists the process, finding it unhelpful. In 1995, Tom comes over for the barbecue, and James throws him into the pool and violently threatens him. When he is offered a part in a movie that shoots in Canada, Otis calls his mother, who isn’t sure if James can accompany him because he’s a registered sex offender. This causes James to begin screaming at her via Otis, who has to relay both of his parents conversations back to each other.
In 2005, after resisting yet again, Otis’s counselor Alec (Martin Starr) advises him to go into the woods and scream as loud as he can. In 1995, James attends an AA meeting, where he tells of his abusive stepmother, how he got into drugs and alcohol abuse, and while blacked out attempted to rape a woman which got him registered as a sex offender. Alone at his place, Otis spends time with the Shy Girl, and the two cuddle and he gives her money.
James forces Otis to rehearse his scenes over and over again, and he stops to scream at the neighbors across the way for being too loud. Otis asks him to stop, and tells him that no one else would hire him because he’s a sex offender, and that Otis is his boss since James is making money off of him. In 2005, Otis thanks Alec for the advice, and continues to work with Dr. Moreno on controlling his anger.
In 1995, Otis finally confronts his father and tells him he needs to start being a better dad to him. James brutally hits him multiple times, furious at Otis for speaking to him that way, and then leaves on his motorcycle and scores drugs at a strip club. Alone, Otis spends time with the Shy Girl, and the two are caught waking up together the next morning by James. The Shy Girl slaps James and leaves, and James vomits and asks Otis how he thinks it feels to hear his own son talk to him like that, say that he pays him. Otis tells James if he didn’t pay him James wouldn’t be there.
Otis takes James to the marijuana plants he has been growing off of the highway and smokes with him. In 2005, Otis goes to his apartment, and imagines himself finding his father there in his rodeo clown costume. He tells his father he’s going to make a movie about him. James asks him to make him look good. The two ride away on James’s motorcycle, which fades into Otis alone driving away.