Movie Reviews

American Honey Review | VIFF 2016

(American Honey, A24, Elevation Pictures)
(American Honey, A24, Elevation Pictures)

Millennials have been at the short end of the theoretical stick for a long time. Between Baby Boomers, Generation X, and everything in between, blame needs to be placed for the next generation to blame their issues on. Andrea Arnold isn’t looking to place blame on any specific group of people. Arnold takes disenfranchised youth and builds a film around their misfortunes and misgivings. As her fourth film, American Honey feels a little familiar, but it doesn’t lose the dream-like qualities or open feeling of the world and the characters that inhabit it. American Honey doesn’t just feel like a retread, but it serves itself as a continuation of the themes Arnold has gravitated towards.

Trapped in Texas with the responsibility of taking care of two children, Star (Sasha Lane) is tired of her life. Instead of their parents paying for food, Star dives into grocery store dumpsters for semi-fresh food. Presented with the opportunity of selling magazines door-to-door by Jake (Shia Labeouf), Star reluctantly takes him up on the offer and subsequently ditches the children with their parents. Led by the prickly Krystal (Riley Keough), Jake and the rest of the kids drive along the mid-west in search of money and the rest of their lives. The intentions of these people are never clear cut and shouldn’t be presented as such. Thankfully, through the actions of the motley crew of magazine sellers, we’re able to learn enough to know something about them.

(American Honey, A24, Elevation Pictures)

(American Honey, A24, Elevation Pictures)

Over the next 2 hours and 43 minutes (yes, it’s really that long) we witness Star and her friends go door-to-door while exploring their lives, but mostly following Star. American Honey is a film that is difficult to spoil as there is very little plot within the movie. By the time Star leaves with the gang, Arnold goes through a series of vignettes and allows us to empathize or distance ourselves from these characters, depending on their actions. And that’s what this movie ultimately comes down to. Can we connect to these characters despite the fact they don’t have a specific goal in sight? American Honey ends up being an entertaining interpretation game.

There’s definitely an aimless feel throughout the movie, but the vignettes transform our ideas with these people without creating a subplot that takes over portions of the film. Outside of Sasha Lane’s extraordinary debut performance, we get atypically great turns from Shia Labeouf who still proves he’s more than his antics despite sporting a rat tail, and The Girlfriend Experience‘s Riley Keough as their ruthless leader. Arnold has a way of finding the best people for the roles and making it feel frighteningly natural. The only problem with this is that this is becoming Arnold’s shtick. With her sophomore masterpiece, Fish Tank, Arnold would pick people out of the street to be her actors including her lead in the film, Katie Jarvis. The use of amateur actors still works, but barely makes the movie feel all that different from the prior film.

(American Honey, A24, Elevation Pictures)

(American Honey, A24, Elevation Pictures)

By the time the credits roll, we reflect on the great soundtrack, the beautiful images captured in the academy ratio of 1:33:1, and ponder on what it all means. That alone makes this journey worth it, even if we’ve gone on something similar before. American Honey never loses its own sense of reality along the massive runtime and makes it feel like if we’re not living in the real world, we’re living in one that’s real for our characters. Andrea Arnold still proves herself to be one of the most talented and tremendous filmmakers working today. Let’s just not wait another five years this time.

American Honey

American Honey
9

Score

9/10

    Pros

    • Sasha Lane gives a tremendous debut performance
    • Entire cast gives a naturalistic entertaining set of performances
    • Direction by Andrea Arnold is as elegant and thoughtful as it's ever been
    • Soundtrack embodies the fun and stupidity of the entire journey

    Cons

    • Near three hour length holds the film back from feeling tighter
    • Familiar type of story for Arnold

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