Director Andrea Arnold
Starring Sasha Lane, Shia LaBoeuf, Riley Keough
LFF screenings 8th and 11th October
Released 14th October 2016
When Star (Sasha Lane) claps eyes on Jake (Shia LaBoeuf), it’s the start of a long journey. And the fact that it happens to the soundtrack of “We Found Love In A Hopeless Place” in a massive Walmart gives the audience its first clue that it’s going to be a very long journey for them as well.
American Honey, which won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes, is a road movie, with Star as the honey of the title, a teenager who walks out on her partner, leaves her siblings with their less than attentive mother and takes to the road with a crew of young people selling magazines door to door. It’s a journey that covers mile upon mile of open road between major cities where Star learns more about herself and life.
A road movie, then, and hardly a new idea. Over the years, they’ve developed traditions all of their own. Drink, drugs, sex, stolen cars, lecherous old men, swimming pools, gullible wealthy people. And more. And every single one of them is in American Honey. And more. Especially the drink and drugs, which are an almost permanent feature of the film. It all goes to create the feeling that we’ve been down this road before, and more than once. We have, except that this time it’s the 21st century and it’s today’s kids. But that’s the only difference between this and any other road movies. And the story is so flimsy that it’s hardly worth talking about. The camera just follows Star as she hits the road, along with Jake and the gang – and Krystal, their hard as nails boss.
Back to the camera, though, because that’s one of the good things about the film. Director Andrea Arnold has a real gift for spotting strong images and there are plenty of them, which is something of a relief. To give the film a contemporary edge, she’s gone for a 4:3 ratio – the screen is almost a square – and always uses a handheld camera, so it looks like it was shot on a mobile phone. Energetic and spontaneous, certainly, but it’s also been done before. Tangerine was the real thing.
The film’s other big plus is the acting. Newcomer Sasha Lane has the right mix of vulnerability and streetwise sass as Star. You can’t blame her for wanting to escape her boyfriend, who you suspect is abusive, and she turns out to be smarter and more resilient than she might appear. The other performance worth watching is Riley Keough as their boss, Krystal, who has one thing and one thing only on her mind. Money. There’s something of the porn star about her and she’s little more than a bully. And, as far as Star is concerned, she’s also her number one rival for Jake’s attention. They have a tetchy relationship, inevitably.
But here’s the killer. The film is 2 hours and 40 minutes long and, if the rest of it was as good as the cinematography, it wouldn’t be a problem. But it doesn’t come close.. It’s repetitive – selling magazines, raving it up at night, drink and drugs on the road, round and round again – and as tedious as Shia LaBoeuf’s silly plait, which looks like it’s been clipped to the back of his head. Which it probably has.
It’s a massive disappointment, given Arnold’s reputation. We know she can do tough, edgy and impactful – but all those characteristics have been swept away in a mass of rambling tedium and cliché. It brings nothing new to the genre and nothing new to the cinema. Sweet it most certainly ain’t.
American Honey is screened at the LFF on 8 and 11 October, released in cinemas on Friday, 14 October and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 13 October.