Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Movie Review #505: "American Honey" (2016)

Movie"American Honey"
Director: Andrea Arnold
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 43 minutes
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A young woman named Star (Sasha Lane) joins a group of rambunctious traveling magazine salespeople who, like her, are looking for their place and are enjoying life of the road.

"American Honey" is written and directed by Andrea Arnold. It is a slice of life/coming of age character study about a young woman named Star, played by Sasha Lane. When we are first introduced to Star, she is digging through a dumpster trying to find food with two young kids in tow, though we come to realize they are not her kids. She meets and flirts with Jake, played by Shia LaBeouf, at a local K-Mart and is taken in by his apparent love of life (either that or his super sexy rat-tail ponytail). Jake invites Star to join their traveling band of miscreant magazine salespeople made up of a motley crew of underprivileged, impoverished, unattached youth. Unhappy with her current situation, she hits the road, leaving everything she knows behind and bound for a road trip across the southern United States on a journey where she learnt about herself, love, and the true meaning of family, friends, and belonging in the world.

Sasha Lane is a newcomer to cinema, but she gives a consummate performance as Star, a woman in her late teens wandering aimlessly through life with a chip on her shoulder and a modest dream of owning a trailer in the country. Star has, by all accounts, had a harsh young life, but she still manages to look forward toward the future in all its grim reality. Some may find Lane's acting unpolished, but this is her breakout role and she has no formal training. We found her to be wholly realistic in her acting abilities and a free-spirited breath of fresh air, not fake or phony. No matter how you feel about Shia LaBeouf and his tumultuous off-screen persona, on screen, he is an excellent fit as the charming Jake. He is the group's top seller, which is mainly due to his ability to lie and manipulate and twist his shtick based on the person who answers the door for him. Star is immediately attracted to him, but it's never completely clear how Jake truly feels about her, if his flirtations are genuine, or if it's more of a performance of pleasant lies to get what he wants. Finally, Riley Keough gives a great performance as Krystal, the boss of the traveling troupe of magazine salespeople. Krystal constantly threatens to take Star's adventure away from her because of her mutual attraction to Jake, who appears to be her ball and chain. Commanding, authoritative, jealous, and clearly guilty of ripping off a van full of underprivileged teens and young adults, she doesn't have much to do in the way of range, but when she appears on screen, Keough is also the perfect fit for such a role.

Character studies aren't always the fastest paced films, but somehow, "American Honey" is engaging enough to breeze by its 2 hours and 43 minutes run time. It's a movie that displays the problems these young people face without ever offering a solution to them. It allows the audience to think about such things and discuss them long after the fact. These issues go far beyond Star and her co-workers as the audience gets glimpses of the lives of other children as this bunch travels door-to-door selling magazines, encountering wealthy, over-sexualized suburban girls, as well as the impoverished children of a drug-addicted mother who barely have enough food to get through the day. All of this is set around recurring imagery of the American flag, which pops up all the time on their daily road trips. There is no real plot here. It is simply an examination of modern youth culture for a bunch of kids who have had independence thrust upon them, or what the trailer calls a "youthquake." These are people who have been forced to fend for themselves since they were young. They lack maturity and guidance, having the attitude and behavior of children even though some of them are in their late teens. Without such guidance, Star in particular falls prey her jaded naivete on several occasions, and when she is offered gifts, alcohol, and opportunities to sell her magazines in exchange for her company, it really illustrates where her life may be headed if she continues down this path.

"American Honey" might seem pretentious and indulgent to some, permissive at every turn and hard to watch because of its intolerable, rambunctious youth-aged leads. Others will be off-put by Andrea Arnold's shaky camerawork. We think the movie is beautifully shot, capturing the cities and suburbs of the mid-west in all of their glory and poverty. This movie manages to capture life in an honest manner, juxtaposing troubled towns full of broken streets with the lavish, pool-clad mansions filled with every luxury imaginable. In a way, it shows America's problems right next to one another without ever fully intersecting them or explaining why they are so. While we agree that this film is not one for mass consumption, we very much enjoyed its wandering narrative and its never-ending cast of deeply flawed characters just trying to get by in life. Maybe in some small way, we can relate to them and what they have to go through. We never felt bored, annoyed, or angry, only sympathetic, gripped, and intrigued. It's relatively devoid of plot, but if you are a fan of long, realistic, gritty feeling character sketches of people on journeys of self-discovery, take a chance on "American Honey."

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 81%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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