Rotten Tomatoes says – American Honey offers a refreshingly unconventional take on the coming-of-age drama whose narrative risks add up to a rewarding experience even if they don’t all pay off.
I say – Anchored by a sensational performance from newcomer Sasha Lane, this edgy and gritty film which depicts contemporary American Youth Gone Wild as they struggle to survive in an economic wasteland, is infused with energy, passion and vigour, but ultimately runs too long and doesn’t seem to say anything. Aside from “Party On!”
Here is a film to make me feel my age.
Which for the record is 43.
Jake – Shia LaBeouf and Star – Sasha Lane are two young Americans who meet in a Target parking lot where Jake befriends Star and convinces her to join his ragtag gang of magazine salespeople travelling across America earning a dollar and seeing the world.
Star comes from a broken family where we see her taking care of a couple of young kids, only to then be groped by a guy who may be her father/brother/stepfather/neighbour or just a random sleaze.
It looks like a shitty life, so when Jake rocks into the parking lot (where Star has been scavenging for food in a dumpster) with a van full of extras from a United Colors of Benetton photo shoot, who break out into song, Star’s spur of the moment decision to join the gang looks like a pretty smart move.
If you dig the idea of a three hour long version of a Rihanna music video then American Honey could be for you.
However, life on the road comes with a set of rules that Star is not comfortable with, and she soon learns that Jake is a player. Despite wooing her to join his sales team, he is already sleeping with the gang’s leader – Krystal – ably played by Mad Max Fury Road’s Riley Keough (eldest grandchild of legendary singer Elvis Presley and actress Priscilla Presley).
Jake and Krystal travel in a convertible ahead of the van, and we never once see inside their ride. Instead a good portion of the film takes place inside the van full of boisterous young people.
I’ve been there, done that – travelling with a group of skaters, surfers, snowboarders and assorted oddbods many years ago, and while it is one hell of an experience to be part of, seeing the bleak interior of the United States from the inside of a van full of castaways runs its course long before the director tires of showing it to us over and over again.
While Star seems to be easily manipulated, she also has a tough streak and when Jake takes her under his wing to instruct her in the art of selling door to door, she calls bullshit on his slippery tactics and their relationship fractures, leaving her out in the cold where she continues to exist on the fringe of this group of outsiders.
Essentially this is a road trip movie about young people getting high, escaping all manner of unpleasant existences, and the film’s loose narrative unfolds between a seemingly endless montage of music videos interspersed with shots of moths and bugs and spiders and various creatures of nature.
The film is also a really sad reflection of the lack of opportunities for an entire generation of human beings. With manufacturing industries collapsing, increased automation and profit hungry companies reducing workforces, there are few options for young people to earn a living or even keep their heads above water.
Star gets herself into a series of uncomfortable situations, hitchhiking a ride with middle aged cowboys, getting drunk with strangers, hopping into cars with truck drivers and oil rig workers, creating a sense of foreboding as surely one of these escapades will turn ugly….
Jake meanwhile is on his own path and when he is not lavishing attention on Star he is acting like an asshole, but she is drawn to him like a moth to flame.
Perhaps that explains all the shots of winged insects.
There are some icky details that you can discover for yourself, which says to me how rare it is to see the warts and all nature of real life in modern films, and I was a little shocked by the graphic nature of a couple of scenes.
I’m intrigued as to who the audience is for a film like this. I would hazard a guess that it is a small crowd of “serious critics” and film festival punters as well as Shia LaBeouf’s mum.
If you see it and like it (or don’t), let me know what you think on my Facebook…
3 Stars – Are We There Yet?