American Honey **

A roaming 18 year-old on a journey that to her means everything, and to the audience adds up to very little.

Is it worth $10? No

What to make of “American Honey”? It is not traditional in any sense. Its defiance of formula piques curiosity. But in doing so it also must be unique, essential, possibly subversive, and certainly daring, because if you ask an audience to trust you to break from convention, you need to do it in a special way.

Alas, writer/director Andrea Arnold’s film is not special. But it is too long at 163 minutes, and it meanders at times, albeit with sporadic dynamic moments that jolt your attention back after extended indifference.

On paper, the story of 18 year-old Star (Sasha Lane, making her screen debut) as the newcomer to a travelling magazine sales crew could seem like a typical coming-of-age story. She’s surrounded by the standard tropes of that narrative: Mentor/love interest Jake (Shia LaBeouf), bitchy adversary Krystal (Riley Keough), supportive friends in the other 15 or so members of the sales team, and potential danger from outsiders that she chooses to navigate on her own.

But Star doesn’t “come of age” in terms of finding herself through experiences so much as she deals with adversity and bad decisions without learning anything from it. There are no moments of reflection. No indications of ambition. No suggestion that she’s growing in a personal or professional way. If anything, her morality gets in the way of success at business.

So fine, this isn’t about the grand evolution of a teenager who goes off on her own. We then naturally think this could be an observation of American youth, with insights into the thoughts, desires and actions that drive the late teen/early twenty’s generation. Again, not really.

Sure, things happen to Star. But you get the sense that you’re peaking into a small time frame of her life and that’s it. There’s no sense of her future, and only a limited sense of the dysfunctional family from which she came. Otherwise she’s just living, with long hours in this van and crowded hotel rooms, with other rowdy youngsters, falling in love, earning money, drinking, smoking, cavorting, yearning. Sometimes enjoying herself, sometimes hating herself. She’s living a life of relative freedom and embracing the innocence of youth. What we’re supposed to get out of watching this is anyone’s guess. After a while her journey becomes tiresome, and you see her going nowhere, so as a viewer you’re filled with dread that the movie will never end.

The great film critic Roger Ebert said two things that are always true when watching movies: 1) No good movie is too long, and no bad movie is too short, and 2) A movie can only be as good as it’s trying to be, i.e. an action movie isn’t trying to win Oscars, it just wants to entertain.

Well, “American Honey” is definitely too long, but it is adequate in being about the bohemian lifestyle and indecision that Star is experiencing. To be honest, I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not.

Bottom line: Did I enjoy watching “American Honey”? At times. Will I ever watch it again? No. Do I think people will like it? Probably not. Is it a good movie? No. 

Did you know?
LaBeouf got 12 tattoos during production, including – get this – matching portraits of hip-hop star Missy Elliott on each knee. Because he’s a crazy person. 

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