American Honey

American HoneySynopsis: Star (Sasha Lane), a teenage girl from a troubled home runs away with a traveling sales crew that drives across the American mid-west selling Magazine subscriptions door to door. Finding her feet in this gang of teenagers, one of whom is Jake (Shia LaBeouf), she soon gets into the group’s lifestyle of hard partying, law-bending and young love.

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American Honey 6.75

eyelights: Sasha Lane. its cinéma vérité quality.
eyesores: its one-note plot. its excruciating length.

“Got anybody who’s gonna miss you?”

You’re so poor that you resort to dumpster diving to feed yourself and your siblings. Your homelife consists of neglect and abuse by an unemployed, aimless, dope-smoking father who sexually abuses you. How do you escape this hopeless reality? What are your options?

For Star, opportunity comes in the form of a magazine crew, a bunch of teenagers who drive around the United States selling magazine subscriptions under all sorts of pretenses. Drawn in by Jake, the group’s charismatic lead, she decides to leave her former life behind.

But will she find what she was looking for?

‘American Honey’ doesn’t answer that question. The 2016 motion picture by writer-director Andrea Arnold spends over two and half hours introducing us to -and immersing us- in Star’s grim reality, providing little insight or purpose. It’s a portrayal of kids with no future.

In some ways it’s reminiscent of ‘Kids‘, except that it follows teenagers with nothing to lose instead of privileged urban kids who have so much that they don’t know what to make of it, take it for granted and squander it. I guess one could say it’s the counterpart to ‘Kids’.

On a similar note, Arnold decided to cast the film with non-actors, holding auditions on the street, in parking lots, …etc. In fact, her star, Sasha Lane, had no acting experience before making this film. It brings to the film a sort of cinéma vérité quality; it feels real.

Arnold was taken with the lives of teenagers working these types of magazine crews, and it shows: her picture is completely forgiving of her leads’ imperfections, nearly glorifying their mindless lifestyle of endless drinking, drug-taking, violence and recklessness.

And yet she was extremely judgmental of all the Christian folks that Star encounters in her travels, whether it be by making fun of the tagline “God is coming”, by visiting the home of a wealthy Christian mom, or by laughing at a woman who goofily bops to Christian songs, …etc.

It’s not that I’m Christian and take offense to this judgement; there’s plenty of hypocrisy in America’s so-called “Christian values” to warrant irony. But Arnold displayed such a skewed view that it stuck with me. Where does all that condescension spawn from exactly?

In my view, there’s plenty of hypocrisy and unfairness in North American society to set your sights on such a limited target.

That seemed to be the only purpose of this drawn-out, indulgent affair, which was shot in chronological order with a lot of improvised dialogues. If Arnold wanted to express the tedium of these teenagers’ lives, she did a marvelous job of it. Otherwise, I can’t fathom what the point was.

The picture was so long that every time it seemed like it was going to wrap up (either because of a small peak in what little story there was or because a non-rap song had been cued), it would keep on going. And going. And going. And going. There were too many fake endings.

I mean, there’s only so much time one will want to devote to watching kids partying in their van on the road to the next town, then going door-to-door trying to make sales, come back to a motel for the night, party, and start over. There was precious little story or character arc.

The highlight came at the halfway point, when Star let herself get picked up big three wealthy, middle-aged oilmen, hoping to sell them subscriptions. Taking her along in their convertible to a large home with a pool, the scene’s made slightly ominous due to Star’s naiveté.

But what makes it interesting is the juxtaposition of showing these older white privileged men aimlessly wasting their time in much the same as their younger counterparts: partying hard. It made one realize that the teens, as unfocused as they were, are really no worse.

But it was a long road to that sequence, which twisted in a way that I felt was awkward and unlikely. And then yet another passed after that moment. I spent two and half hours immersed in rap music and kids trying to find meaning to their lives in the utterly meaningless.

It was dispiriting.

While ‘American Honey’ may connect with certain audiences, I wasn’t especially enamoured with it. It’s not a terrible movie, and the cast do a fine job basically playing themselves (were they actually drinking and doping up for the film?), but 90 minutes would have captured it.

I would never choose to join a magazine crew, and I don’t feel compelled to experience it – literally.

Give me three hours of ‘Boyhood‘ any day over this.

Date of viewing: Nov 5, 2016

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