Saturday, October 22, 2016


American Honey is a 2016 film from director Andrea Arnold about an underprivileged young-adult who joins a roaming troop of others who drive around and sell magazine subscriptions to earn money whilst living together and partying. The film stars Sasha Lane as our lead character, Star, alongside others like Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough, amongst others. This was a highly hyped indie and, for me, it turned out to be a massive let down. This film possesses a really well found realism but overstays its welcome and fails to have any real story.

Despite it generally letting me down, this film does have some real strong positives. The best thing this film does is develop performances. Sasha Lane is excellent. For the most part, American Honey is filled with a bunch of highly unlikeable characters and yet each one has a moment where you get to look into them and the realism of these performances made you see where this was all coming from. Shia LaBeouf also does a fair job in the film. Nothing on the level of what Lane did, but he was solid throughout.

Another thing I really want to praise this film for is its genuine realism. This film doesn’t take shortcuts and shows the lives of these people which are destitute but also dreamlike in a way and every moment of realism really came through, bubbling to the surface. I felt everything happening in this movie, and almost more than anything I’ve seen this year I felt like I was peering through a window onto a real person’s life which is a special thing for a filmmaker to accomplish.

This film has some very serious problems, however. This section will have a SPOILER for the broad level of the story but will not spoil anything specific, these will be in this paragraph alone. Nothing happens in this film. Star leaves home and joins the crew and then there’s a few relationship things between members of the crew, but this film lacks any overarching conflict and fails to resolve anything by the films end. In a movie that is filled with generally unlikable people (with Star being somewhat of an exception), it’s really hard to get invested with nothing happening. That’s largely what killed this film for me. I felt entirely uninterested and was really disappointed when the film finally came to an end because I had been waiting for something to happen.

With respect to waiting, this film is very long. At 2 hours and 43 minutes, Arnold really has a challenge to keep the audience involved. I think she failed to do that and this film would have been better served at a shorter length. This film has a lot of handheld cam and a lot of time spent inside a van and at some point you would think an editor could have tightened up elements of this story to make it more engaging throughout and move along in a more purposeful way instead of the meandering pace we got.

The last thing I want to critique is the choice to film this in a 4:3 aspect ratio. No, this shouldn’t be a problem but it looked extremely awkward. I am happy to deal with handheld camerawork so long as it is effective (which I thought it was in this film), but film is generally in wide screen by its nature and it is jarring to see it differently. This didn’t seriously hurt my experience but it was another hurdle to get over in liking the film. All of the hurdles with the story, the characters, the length, plus this aspect ratio combined really turned me off from this film.

American Honey has some really solid elements, including a good cast who delivers solid performances and some brilliantly captured realism, amongst others. However, it really overstayed its welcome, went nowhere, and failed to get me to buy in to anything going on in the film. Overall, I can’t recommend this film as it was a slog for me despite some redeeming aspects.

Ryan’s Score: 5/10

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