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United Kingdom/USA 2016
Directed by
Andrea Arnold
163 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

American Honey

Synopsis:  A teenage girl (Sasha Lane) with nothing to lose joins a motley crew of door-to-door salespeople and gets caught up in a whirlwind of hard partying, law bending and young love as they criss-cross the American Midwest.

Although this film won the Jury Prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival (making it the third time for British director Andrea Arnold who won previously with Red Road in 2006 and Fish Tank in 2009) you’ve really got to wonder about the bona fides of the jurors who apparently haven’t seen Larry Clark’s iconic 1995 film Kids and think that Arnold’s portrait of mis-spent youth is refreshing in its candour and insightful in its depiction of Springsteenian America.

As an update to Clark’s film, American Honey feels accurate but particularly since so little has changed bar the music, now predominantly in the rap style (although Rihanna’s “Love In A Hopeless Place” gets a good workout), and the fashion for tattoos and piercings, exactly why we needed 163 minutes to watch (via gratuitous hand held camera work) a rag-tag bunch of wastrels spending each day trying to find suckers to sell magazine subscriptions to and every night getting wasted, is a mystery.  There’s the occasional humourous incident to break up the monotony and some ups and downs in Star’s relationship with her cynical handler/sometime boyfriend, Jake (Shia LaBeouf), on the one hand, and the crew’s sexpot Fagin, Krystal (Riley Keough, who happens to be Elvis Presley’s granddaughter), on the other, but for the most part Arnold seems intent on subjecting us to the same never-ending routine of cramped van by day, crummy motel rooms by night that the kids endure. The trouble is, they have the good fortune to be stoned most of the time and we do not.

Artistic kudos aside, I’d say this film is going to struggle to find an audience. At its best it gives us an empathetic portrait of its central character, Lane and Arnold winning us over largely by making Star a lot more sympathetic than the people who surround her. Some texture to these characters might have helped make the film a lot more appealing. 

 

 

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