“American Honey” is many things but a worthwhile film it is not. Written and directed by Andrea Arnold, the film is loose, directionless, and insipid. Arnold seems to make a stab at the experimental or art-house style of film but fails to invoke any real emotion other than impatience.
The story follows Star (Sasha Lane) on a trans-American journey of escapism. Star, who says she’s 18, cares for two younger siblings and deals with some disturbing sexual abuse by a man who is apparently her father. The father is good for nothing, lowlife drug addict who barely functions, let alone provides for the kids. Star resorts to digging around dumpsters for unspoiled food to feed the family.
A chance encounter with a van full of wild millennials turns the tide for Star—although not necessarily for the bed. Enchanted by the manager, Jake (played by a pony-tailed Shia LeBeouf), Star decides to run away with the group who sells magazines door-to-door. The pyramid scheme racket is reminiscent to many such “salesy,” too good to be true burn-out jobs. The workers are in essence pimped out by Riley Keough’s character Krystal. While Shia is the ringleader, Krystal owns the entire circus, and everyone is made to know it.
Half of the film is set inside the van with the other sellers who all come from congruent backgrounds of neglect, abuse, drug addiction—all of them are seeking to escape to something better, but can’t seem to get out of the hole they now find themselves in.
The other half is spent with Jake teaching Star the tricks of selling magazines door to door and punctuated by empty lust that is better suited for a “50 Shades of Grey” fan fiction. It is beyond boring. Any hope of the story actually being a story is run over by the tedium parade of no action or drama.
Star’s character seems to set out on a journey of self-discovery. Every phase is punctuated by what seems to be a poignant moment with nature: a fly on a window, a sugar-baby marsupial taken as a pet, a kidnapped Pitbull. Each creature is seemingly trapped and struggling to get free. And you would think the same of Star, but she moves through her story blissfully uncaring.
She is brass, crass, argumentative and utterly dislikeable. The people she is surrounded by are even worse. The end of the film seems to veer into the metaphorical but snaps back to pointlessness.
Perhaps the monotony is the point of the film. It may be that the drudge of barely scraping by appeals to some audiences. But like Star, we can probably all agree we go to the cinema to escape. But “American Honey” takes you nowhere and will make you cringe that you just wasted money to see it.
– Mesa resident Kaely Monahan is producer of Popcorn Fan Film Reviews.