Going into American Honey knowing that the critical reception was very positive definitely put some pressure on. The film, written and directed by Andrea Arnold, has a long runtime at just under 3 hours and you feel every minute. This is a slice of life film that follows a group of eighteen to mid-twenty year olds who travel the country selling magazines.
American Honey doesn’t offer what I look for in a film
Star (Sasha Lane) joins the group after a chance run in with Jake (Shia LaBeouf) who offers her an escape from her tough life acting as a mother two the children of her drunk boyfriend. There is a clear attraction between the two, but the lifestyle of being on the road and the rules set forth by the leader, Krystal (Riley Keough), make it hard for this spark to burst too life.
The film is full of interesting choices by Andrea Arnold some more conventional than others. The film is showed in a 4:3 ratio, like old TV, leaving black bars on the side. Considering the film is full of breathtaking landscapes as they travel through the midwest, it is an unusual choice to restrict the visible areas. That’s not to say she doesn’t make excellent use of the frame.
There are several shots that are gorgeous. Her use of a shallow depth of field in many of the shots creates some interesting visuals whether looking out the window of the van as it speeds down the roads or when Star and Jake are..being intimate…in a field. At times the camera feels invisible as though the audience is a part of the group, but then there are camera movements that clearly break that illusion. During that intimate scene, for example, the camera is laying in the grass then gets up and scoots back to adjust the framing of the two intertwined lovers. It’s very noticeable and a little jarring.
While Lane and LaBeouf perform superbly, the characters aren’t exactly likeable. The portrait painted of the lower class in this film isn’t exactly flattering or redeemable. Star has an attitude towards most people and often puts herself in very dangerous situations. Yet, she always manages to walk away from them relatively unscathed. There were several moments in the film that created a definitive sense of foreboding as Star willingly walks into a trap, but they all end with her fine in some degree. Ultimately, nothing really happens in this film that’s bigger than Star’s issues. Her biggest redeeming quality is shown with her constantly saving insects, animals, or other people’s children. She clearly has a big heart, but she is also stuck in her situation.
There is clearly a point being made in this film, but it wasn’t one that warranted the long runtime. On that note, it is hard to tell exactly what that point was trying to accomplish inside this film. Ultimately, I found American Honey a bit painful to make through, but also enjoyed moments in the film. Sasha and Shia were excellent, but I would have liked a more fulfilling story to really make me want to come back to it. American Honey earns the Decent Watch rating.