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American Honey - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
American Honey
Directing: B-
Acting: B+
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B-

American Honey has been marketed as "a film for this generation" on its promotional materials -- and I'm left to wonder, which generation, exactly? Millennials, I suppose? Except box office returns would suggest it's a film for no generation -- it has grossed less than half a million dollars after more than two weeks of release domestically. This movie isn't defining a generation, as promoters seem to want us to believe. It's not defining much of anything, really.

That's not to say that it's worthless, by any means. Two key elements are better than most movies: the performances, particulaly that of newcomer Sasha Lane; and the cinematography. The latter is rather unusual, considering its odd choice of aspect ratio -- it's barely noticeable as being wider than it is tall, making it strikingly close to being square in shape. This makes it feel a little like the longest Instagram video imaginable. Two hours and 43 minutes, to be specific. With the right director, that kind of excessive length can be justified. But I sat through American Honey for its nearly three hours and I can tell you, if a full hour had been cut from it, it would not have felt rushed. This movie did not need to be that long.

As it is, I'll give it this much: I didn't get bored, either. This is mostly because the majority of this film is beautifully shot, made even more impressive by the number of scenes shot inside a crowded van. But also the acting is great. Without those two things American Honey would be a pretty awful and tedious experience.

There's not even that much to tell, as far as the story goes. Star (Sasha Lane) is a poor Texan girl taking care of two kids that aren't even hers, living with a boyfriend who is, let's say, unsatisfying. She gets food out of dumpsters. She crosses paths with a van full of young traveling salesmen -- one of them, Jake (Labeouf), offers her a job, coming along with them. They actually sell magazines.

Does this even really happen? This was kind of a sticking point for me. Who even subscribes to magazines anymore? (Okay, I still subscribe to one.) And a van cram packed full of twenty somethings who sell these subscriptions? This is literally the job all these kids are doing. Jake is the best selling of them all. It's never explicitly stated how old Jake is supposed to be, but considering the age of all the others, it seems we're meant to understand he's also in his twenties. Shia LaBeouf just turned 30 this year. Okay, whatever. I'll let it slide.

Jake has a curiously intimate relationship with Krystal (Riley Keough), who is the boss of this ragtag team of young men and women selling magazine subscriptions across the Midwest. He's definitely got a thing for Star (Sasha Lane), though, who is all of eighteen years old. She's left the aforementioned two kids with the woman who is apparently their genetic mother to go on this job. For a movie that takes almost three hours, we get precious little information about this family scenario. I don't know if the kids' mother is Star's sister or what.

"American Honey" is a phrase that gets defined in the movie itself: a Southern young woman. Star is from Texas. Krystal defines herself as such a person, and recognizes Star as one too -- and clearly finds her to be a threat, especially when Star's presence makes Jake's sales plummet.

There are many scenes of Jake or Star approaching people, going door to door, attempting to sell their magazine subscriptions. None of these scenes are particularly pleasant, just by virtue of the bullshit spiel they offer people. Except for Star, perhaps, who more than once finds herself garnering interest by being surprisingly honest. In one memorable sequence, she jumps into the convertible of three middle-aged men in cowboy hats who invite her to their barbecue and provide her with copious amounts of alcohol -- at her own request.

I'll give this much to American Honey: Star finds herself in several situations that are potentially very dangerous, but writer-director Andrea Arnold never takes these scenes in predictable directions. Nothing particularly horrible happens in this movie, which somehow winds up being both a relief and disappointing. Being unpredictable does not on its own give a given story a particular vitality. And frankly, there's nothing vital whatsoever about American Honey. I saw it, it was too long but it was still fine, and you really don't need to see it.

Sasha Lane is AMERICAN HONEY to Shia LaBeouf.

Overall: B-
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