Directed by Andrea Arnold. Starring Shia LaBoeuf, Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf,
McCaul Lombardi, Arielle Holmes, Veronica Ezell
THE PLOT: When first we meet Star (Sasha Lane) she is dumpster diving for food, and hitching lifts with children that are obviously not her own. After she meets Jake (Shia La Boeuf) at a K Mart and he offers her a job selling magazines door to door, she leaves the kids with their parents, and sets off on a road trip across America with Jake and other disaffected and lost teens, led by the mysterious Krystal (Riley Keough).
THE VERDICT: Screening In Competition in Cannes, and taking its title from the song by Lady Antebellum, American Honey is both a cautionary the and wildly aspirational; even though this is perhaps not the message the film wants to convey.
In the lead role, Sasha Lane makes Star a charming enough character, and makes sure that her morals shine through as she questions the methods people use for selling magazines, and spends time in the film rescuing animals from uncomfortable situations. Lane is well able enough to carry the film, and works well with the other members of the cast. Shia La Boeuf plays Jake, the salesperson most favoured by Krystal, and who develops an infatuation with Star. La Boeuf’s performance as the morally bereft Jake is strong, and a good contrast to the well meaning and kind Star. Riley Keough makes Krystal ruthless and unlikeable, delivering many of her lines with a dripping malice. The rest of the cast features McCaul Lombardi and Arielle Holmes many of whom director Andrea Arnold found in shopping malls and the like; often holding auditions for the film in parking lots.
The screenplay, written by Andrea Arnold, follows these disaffected youths – many of whom will not be missed by anyone – as they journey through the American Mid West. Much of the film is spent with the characters as they drink, get high and sing along with rap in the back of cars, and although Star is the heart of the film and we are with her on this journey, we don’t learn much about her or any of the characters since the film seems more interested in capturing the cult-like life of these kids on the road, with a tumultuous romance thrown in for good measure.
As director, Andrea Arnold makes the kids likeable for the most part; it is clear they are having the time of their lives crossing the country with little responsibility, staying in motels and partying every night, but this means that the 2 hour 42 minute running time of the film feels drawn out, and the eventual ending unsatisfactory. There is a feel of Spring Breakers about the film; filled as it is with neon clothing, a charismatic leader and a drifting storyline, and this leaves the film feeling familiar and derivative, rather than a fresh statement on the state of youth in America today. The film could easily have been a companion piece to Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, as the characters in both films find themselves falling through the cracks and on the fringes of society, but American Honey feels thin by comparison to the emotion of Ken Loach’s film, and the characters are too carefree to understand the economic tragedy they are in. The cinematography of the film is beautiful, with the Academy aspect ratio making much of the film look like an instagram video – the handheld feel of the camera only adds to this – and this beauty in desolation is perhaps one of the strongest aspects of the film.
In all, American Honey feels too familiar to be truly original, and with another film In Competition at Cannes about economic challenges, it pales in comparison. The characters are charming, however, and if you are looking for a two and a half hour instagram video on how beautiful the US can be, during which the characters change very little, then this is the film for you. The rest of us, however, may struggle to stay engaged.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Cannes Review - American Honey
Review by Brogen Hayes
2.0Prolonged instgram video
  • filmbuff2011

    English director Andrea Arnold’s fourth feature American Honey is her first film set outside her native country – this time in the vast, iconic landscapes of America. It cleaves closest to her second film, Fish Tank, in that it focuses on a teenage girl at a crossroads in her life.

    When we first meet 18-year-old Star (Sasha Lane), she’s digging through trash for food for her younger sister and brother. She’s just about making ends meet, even though her mother doesn’t care much. The arrival of a travelling group of similar young people catch her attention. They seem hip, cool and free-spirited. One in particular draws her attention: Jake (Shia LaBeouf). He convinces them to join them as they travel across the Mid-West through rich and poor districts going door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions (how quaint). She blends in with the crowd, though meets with a frosty reception from boss Krystal (Riley Keough), who has yet to be convinced that she’s a saleswoman. Jake takes Star under his wing and trains her up in the tricks of the trade – though she finds his approach to potential customers dishonest. Star becomes drawn to Jake, even though he doesn’t get involved with work colleagues…

    American Honey has a very youthful flavour to it, as well as a naturalistic feel, that is of the moment. How much you enjoy it might depend on how much you identify or relate to the characters – in this reviewer’s case very little actually. A classic case of what the viewer brings to the film from their own experiences and then can’t connect with the characters. Maybe it’s just generational differences. The characters feel more like sketches and are consequently rough around the edges. That’s surprising given the lengthy running time of the film – just a minute shorter than the most recent Transformers film. With all that narrative space to play with, Arnold shortchanges her characters to the point where you hang out and spend a lot of time with them, but don’t really get to know them. What’s the point in that?

    That extends to the casting too. Arnold opted mostly for non-professional actors, even plucking Lane off a beach during Spring Break to play her lead character. Arnold’s boxy Academy Ratio camera is clearly in love with Lane, as she’s in virtually every scene and Arnold likes to zoom in close on her face. While Lane does hold your attention throughout, her shortcomings as an actress are evident – she only has one facial expression: flirty curiosity. Had Arnold cast a quality young actress like Elle Fanning or Chloe Moretz, then we could have had a more developed character with a clearer hope for the future. Lane just plays Star as a free spirit who is blissfully unaware of the dangers of hopping into cars with strangers. That’s not really enough to make this character credible.

    The running time is also an issue. 164 minutes is indulgent for a film of this type – i.e. a road movie. There’s no reason why this story couldn’t be told in 2 hours or less. There’s a point approaching the two hour mark where the story could end, but Arnold drags it out for another hour. This is such an aimless, directionless film that it could go on forever. Arnold doesn’t even know how to end the film properly either, going for something whimsical rather than emotional as the credits roll. Despite good work from LaBeouf (setting aside his recent offscreen weirdness) and excellent use of American locations and environments, American Honey is a misfire for the usually reliable Arnold. This is a film that spends ages trying to tell you something and then forgets its purpose by the end. **

  • emerb

    “American Honey” is one of the great little gems of this year. It’s an American road movie directed by an Englishwoman, Andrea Arnold, and shot by Irishman Robbie Ryan. It’s a fresh movie about youth and freedom and one which perfectly captures the experience of being young, aimless and in love. It’s also about issues such as money, music and the struggle for identity. It’s observant and engaging and I loved the intelligent way it explores the sense of freedom that comes with living dangerously.

    Sasha Lane plays Star, a young girl living in abject poverty in Oklahoma with her abusive father. By day she and some young kids (not hers) wander the streets searching for food and waiting for anybody to take them away from their tragic lives. In the opening minutes, she encounters a peculiar group of rag-tag, energetic youths at her local supermarket, dancing to Rihanna and headed by the suave Jake (Shia LaBeouf). The pair lock eyes and he quickly convinces her to escape her broken home and join his gang on a road trip across the country selling magazines. Star gets swept up in the excitement and before long, she finds herself huddled in the back of a minivan with the boisterous and scruffy crew as they roam through small towns selling magazine subscriptions to anybody who will buy. The group is headed up by Krystal (Riley Keough),a tough forewoman who collects the cash, gets a motel room to herself every night, and is not to be messed with. She is wary of Star and considers her to be on probation while Jake trains her on how to play on strangers’ sympathies, by inventing doorstep sob stories to get money from magazine subscriptions. Whatever they earn goes towards food and gas with the least-profitable members forced to physically fight it out. At night they have wild parties and dance to loud music. They are connected by their lust for adventure, freedom and the open road. Star gets whisked away into this unfamiliar life of indulgence filled with episodes of petty crime, con artistry, sexual freedom and drug abuse. They have nothing, they have nobody except for each other, and the way they see it is: get money and that money will buy you freedom. It’s a world she never knew existed.

    Apart from the 3 main stars, the rest of the largely non-professional, first timers are not developed aside from their wacky hairstyles, sense of dress and body types. They are more of a collective bunch of wild travelling companions than individually important and with names like Pagan, Runt and Misty, they seldom ask questions or reveal information about one another. The movie wholly belongs to Lane who takes centre stage in almost every shot. She gives a magnetic performance and is surely one to watch. We watch as she learns to get by in a world that she finds both exhilarating and unfamiliar. We see her move from a guarded introvert who is reserved and wary to a rebel and a survivor whose excitement can sometimes lead her astray. She comes of age slowly and tentatively but it’s a wonderful transformation. The chemistry between Lane and LaBeouf is electric. As the ratty braided ponytail charmer with tattoos aplenty,
    Jake introduces her to a whole new world and his carefree attitude is exactly
    what Star is seeking. It’s fair to say that LaBoeuf gives a confident and perhaps a career-best turn here and this role is a far cry from his earlier teen movies.
    “American Honey” is both sad and yet joyful. We see much struggle and hardship but yet that’s counterbalanced by many scenes of happiness, escape, freedom and the teenage dream. Robbie Ryan’s photography is impressive. He has a keen eye for subtle detail – nature, landscapes and vibrant colour contrasts from drab parking lots to the bright greens of the open countryside. He also tends to linger on lovely detailed shots – a butterfly, a wasp, a wide open meadow, shimmery moonlit nightscapes. The soundtrack is superb and this was one of my favourite aspects of the movie. We get everything from Rihanna pop to Bruce Springsteen to Southern rap. My main problem is the length, at almost 3 hours it starts to drag which is a shame. As it’s rather lacking in plot and has a somewhat meandering structure, I felt it could have benefitted from being 30 minutes shorter. The trip they embark on is so open-ended and without a specific
    narrative structure that at times I felt it was going nowhere. Having said that, “American Honey” is a fascinating piece of cinema to watch, original, raunchy, wild. It reminds us that life is an open road and freedom exists out there, we just have to find it.