Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Movie Review: American Honey (2016)

American Honey (2016) - Written and Directed by Andrea Arnold; Starring Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough, McCaul Lombardi, Arielle Holmes.

By Kenny Howell

Early in Andrea Arnold's American Honey, our protagonist Star runs into a group of young people in a Muskogee, Oklahoma K-Mart.

They are a little unfiltered, doing whatever they want, and when Rhianna's We Fell in Love comes on in the store, they begin to dance, one of them, Jake, played by Shia LaBeouf (Lawless), jumps up on the counter and draws all kinds of attention from Star.

The song choice by Writer-Director Arnold, who did the brilliant Fish Tank a few years back, is perfect for the moment, and for the film in general. The chorus contains the line, "We fell in love in a hopeless place" which is exactly where Star (Sasha Lane) finds herself. She lives in Muskogee, has a terrible home life, and is stuck in extreme poverty, dumpster diving for food to help feed her siblings.

But these kids, which unfortunately is populated by a bunch of burnouts, is what she wants to be. They are seemingly good people (despite obvious past and present transgressions) having a lot of fun, and that is a deep contrast to what she experiences on a daily basis. Jake is kicked out of the K-Mart, and Star follows him out to the parking lot. He says be at the Motel 6 the next morning, and he has a business opportunity. The group travels from place to place "selling" magazines, scamming people out of their money for non-existent magazines, then moving onto the next. Compared to what Star has, that isn't that bad an idea.

Sasha hits the road with them, traveling to Kansas where she meets the tough ringleader of the group, Krystal (Riley Keough). Krystal is instantly antagonistic to Star, which apparently she is with everyone. It makes it worse when Jake and Star start to fall for each other a bit, which hurts Jake's sales.

Arnold has captured a weird combination of hopefulness and hopelessness in the film. This living a gypsy like existence is good for Star because she has found a place where she belongs, with people that accept her and make life worth living a bit. But the flip side is where does that end? Is she just going to keep traveling forever? The kids are involved in, albeit small, illegal activities, so there is a good chance that she will pay the price for it at some point. It is better than where she was before, but her ceiling doesn't look very high, something that a lot of Americans struggle with everyday. They work to just to get the basic things needed to live, but never get much enjoyment at the end of the day.

The performances are outstanding, key among them is Lane and LaBeouf. It's a shame all the noise around LaBeouf, which he brings a lot of it on himself, taints his performances because he is a terrific actor. His Jake is charming and volatile, never quite pinning down what he is or what his motive is. Lane does the heavy lifting in the film as the not quite grown up Star who is putting everything into place.

That dichotomy Arnold brings makes American Honey entrancing and depressing all at the same time. Quite an achievement in itself, and another addition to the great work she has done in just over a decade of her feature filmmaking career.

Rating: ***1/2

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