American Honey

2016 – USA

Director – Andrea Arnold

Starring – Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough

Words – C. Abbott

 

Many words are being spoken on the state of America today, politically and socially. While director Andrea Arnold doesn’t necessarily provide answers, she certainly contributes to the conversation. This is something of a reflective piece, a lucid experience that glides us through America from the perspective or perspectives of a continually disillusioned generation.

At the centre of it all is Star, played to perfection by newcomer Sasha Lane; she is a young single mother of two. Her life seems to be more close to survival rather than living at the point we meet her. She happens upon a group of travelling sales reps, seemingly led by Jake (Shia LaBeouf) whom all seem to live carefree, yet destructive lives. Without much consideration, she joins them as they travel they travel the States, seeing all the country has to offer, from impoverished families to dripping wealth.

The most surprising part of it all is how well Sasha Lane carries the narrative forward, as a complete unknown she shows incredible promise. Shia LaBeouf is on usual commanding form, chewing the scenery from scene to scene. His erraticism is as compelling as his determination, he’s an actor that consistently holds nothing back and has to be commended for it. Overall the performances were the highlight, raw and real, but messy and spontaneous. The direction over the actors seems improvised, setting them off like loose cannons and seeing what footage they have at the end of the day. It is befitting and suits the documentary style in the cinematography. Robbie Ryan who has worked with Arnold before on Fish Tank and last year’s Slow West among many other projects has really outdone himself here with the cinematography. This is a naturalistic and authentic look at contemporary America and he has really captured this tone.

Yet the film boasts a running time of 163 minutes, at nearly 3 hours long, it doesn’t seem justified. While the film is something of a snapshot into the life a young girl trying to find her place, the events are rather plotless, that is to say, meandering. It’s excessive and distractive, almost getting lost into its own world, perhaps with a different edit; this could have been a much tighter and rewarding experience. The messages it hopes to convey can get lost in a film that could have 30 minutes axed and the same experience would have been had. There is little catharsis, but perhaps that is the point. Right now there are little easy answers and the few we do get are often unfulfilling. It is a worthwhile exploration, a character study and social statement, but for many they won’t last long enough in its borderline glacial narrative to see these islands of merit.

 

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