American Honey Directed by Andrea Arnold
Published Oct 14, 2016American Honey is too long by at least an hour, and while it's inarguably a visually stunning film, it's a meandering odyssey with no real takeaways or conclusion. For a while, it's a fascinating look into the American Dream as interpreted by poor, drunk, stoned teenagers, but at nearly three hours, this isn't enough to propel the film forward.
Troubled teenager Star (newcomer Sasha Lane, whose magnetism makes American Honey's most drawn-out, indulgent scenes bearable), exhausted by her life of dumpster-diving, hitchhiking and taking care of her negligent stepfather's children, runs away with a crew of young people who offer her the freewheeling life she dreams of. Traveling the South and the Midwest in their van as they go door-to-door selling magazines by day and partying hard by night, Star is especially taken with the crew's de-facto "top seller," Jake (Shia LeBeouf), much to the displeasure of their tough-eyed leader Krystal (Riley Keough).
The film pretty much goes exactly where you'd expect, but to its credit, it doesn't turn into a morality tale or "teach a lesson." It's also beautifully shot, the camera lovingly embracing life on the American highway, from a majestic cliff at dusk to the fluorescent-lit parking lot of a dingy motel. Much of the film is set within the crew's white van as they sing, smoke and drink their way to the next destination, but though they're a likeable enough group of troubled youth, they're not very interesting or easily distinguishable between one another, and we mostly focus on Star as she broods alone. The first few times, it's enthralling; the next three, four or five, not so much. It's also ultimately a strange choice for a film ostensibly about a surrogate family to position its lead character as not really engaging with any of them — other than the boy she has a crush on.
Star and Jake's budding romance doesn't have much of a resolution, fizzling out without a satisfying conclusion, much like Star's similarly troubled relationship with Krystal. Another, frustratingly surface-level element of American Honey is its fascination with the "good life" and upper-middle-class America as seen through the eyes of the young and the poor. These are interesting, thought-provoking scenes, but never pan out into anything thematic, and don't dig deep enough to provoke serious though. They are things the film employs to create tension without really committing to them, and seem shoehorned in for the sake of adding a plot to an otherwise mostly narrative-less film.