American Honey, 2016
Directed by Andrea Arnold
Starring Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough.
Disaffected, blue-collar American teen Star (Sasha Lane), a self-described ‘American Honey’, leaves her unhappy home life behind to hit the road with a gang of misfit stragglers who travel across the USA scamming people out of their money. On the way she meets and falls in love with the charismatic Jake (Shia LaBeouf).
Is an abundance of shaky-cam an effective way of masking a wafer-thin story? In a far cry from her outstanding British council estate drama Fish Tank Andrea Arnold’s latest often struggles to deliver the same sense of profundity, any semblance of character development threatening to get lost in the woozy, lurching cinematography. Add in an indulgent two and a half hour plus running time and the experience threatens to become something of an ordeal, were it not for Arnold’s typically brilliant ability at getting remarkable performances from young, untested performers.
Said actor here is the scorching Sasha Lane, who transforms what could have been the typical outsider misfit into a palpably believable portrayal of a young girl searching for her place in the world. It’s Lane’s first feature film role and she’s compelled to carry pretty much every scene across all 165 minutes, expertly fashioning a quicksilver character who vacillates between rebel punkiness and naïveté with superb confidence. In Arnold’s typical style it all appears less staged than ripped from real life, and when the camera finally settles down it finds in Lane’s expressive features a whole other landscape unfolding in front of us.
Not that the wider geographical expanse is lacking. Fashioning her first movie outside the UK, Arnold captures the contradictory American heartland superbly from the eerily undulating Badlands of South Dakota to the belching oil wells whose light coruscates across the night sky, Blade Runner-style. The freewheeling On the Road-esque narrative also finds room for wry humour, as when Star and Jake attempt to fleece a Christian woman of her money only to be faced with the inappropriate sight of her underage daughter gyrating suggestively amid the sprinklers.
There are several such moments present in the movie but when they’re scattered across such an indulgent length, they threaten to get lost in the mix. It doesn’t help that Star’s travelling companions, outside Jake (a back-on-form LaBeouf), lack strong dimension and are largely defined by simplistic traits (Riley Keough’s bitchy leader Krystal, the girl obsessed with Darth Vader and the guy who always likes to naked, to name but three). In the manner of the oil wells that feature so prominently, it’s a movie with atmosphere and style to burn but with less to say than it initially appears.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★