(UK/USA, 163 min.)
Written and directed by Andrea Arnold
Starring: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough
Andrea Arnold shines a light on a great new talent in American Honey. Newcomer Sasha Lane is a diamond in the roughness of Arnold’s passionate but ultimately exhausting fourth feature. Lane debuts as Star, a runaway teen in the American South who escapes an awful home life by joining a bunch of kids travelling the country selling magazines. Nobody buys magazines anymore, but her white trash boss (Riley Keough), decked out in the skankiest Confederation flag bikini ever found at in an inspired costuming binge at Wal-Mart, isn’t the sharpest of entrepreneurs. There are moments of genuine greatness in American Honey as Arnold, Lane, and the talented cast delivers a spot on observation of ho-hum millennial life and the restlessness of a generation.
Lane is an instantly magnetic screen presence and Arnold uses the boxed-in 1.33:1 academy ratio of her frame to hug Star close and use every intimate deal of the composition to her advantage. Observant, youthful, and utterly reckless, Lane’s Star is a perfect vessel for the energy of her generation that searches for hope and optimism in a barren land.
Star finds love in a hopeless place when Arnold cranks up the volume on the soundtrack with an early appearance of Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” The first iteration comes in a crappy K-Mart in white trash ‘Murrica. (The most hopeless of all places.) There, Star spots the eye of Jake (Shia LaBeouf, who gives a surprisingly not-awful performance), a greasy dude with a rat-tail and swell K-Mart dance moves, who becomes Star’s mentor, guardian, and dysfunctional lover. When the song returns, Lane truly owns the film as Star comes into her own as a hurricane of reckless confidence.
Arnold, however, lets the film slip away from itself with a plodding pace and repetitive structure. She spends far too much time shuffling her cinematic iPod with favourite song moments and only one of them—well, two—offers something gratifying to the raw and tedious experience. Otherwise, American Honey feels like two-and-a-half hours of the “Tiny Dancer” scene from Almost Famous on a loop as the lost kids of the film sing one song after another. It’s all fine until Arnold grinds it into dust. Sure, “We Found Love” repeats the same line sixteen times, but it’s a four-minute song, not a 163-minute movie.
American Honey is now in limited release at the most randomly selected theatres imaginable.