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American Honey (Written Film Review & Trailer)

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Review by John Delia

Here’s a quirky little film that could sneak in for an Oscar if the wind blows their way. It’s called American Honey and works its magic with a strong appeal to mature teens through 20’s. The film has a radical edge that takes a stab at the wealthy and also preys on the goodness of middle class America. That said, it’s also an eye opener of America’s failure to influence the young toward important social values and the danger of negative ones.

A band of misfit teenagers, each with their own idiosyncratic personality, are traveling the country on a bus under the management of Krystal (Riley Keough) a crack magazine sales entrepreneur. At a stop in Oklahoma their group leader Jake (Shia LaBeouf) meets young single mother Star (Sasha Lane) and convinces her to come along for the ride of her life. After dropping off her child to the father, she jumps aboard the vagabond bus looking to change her humdrum life.

Sasha Lane as Star in American Honey

Sasha Lane as Star in American Honey

The wild ride takes audiences into the inner sanctum of teens who each have their own story to tell on why they have left their local social situation to start again. Director Andrea Arnold, recognized by the Academy of Arts and Sciences with an Oscar for her short film Wasp, puts her actors in front of the camera depicting them as lost souls who are looking for a break in life. Like in Wasp the characters are very real in today’s society where jobless rates have soured and continue to rise.

McCaul Lombardi, Riley Keough, Verronikah Ezell, Shia LaBeouf, Crystal B Ice, Shawna Rae Moseley, Kenneth Kory Tucker, Raymond Coalson in American Honey

McCaul Lombardi, Riley Keough, Verronikah Ezell, Shia LaBeouf, Crystal B Ice, Shawna Rae Moseley, Kenneth Kory Tucker, Raymond Coalson in American Honey

Most of her characters are from broken homes, while some not, Arnold’s group shows their dreams, strengths and weaknesses as they push for being the best at what they are now doing. It’s a cross section of America that can be seen in most communities today searching for a life that has no guarantee. Arnold chooses door to door magazine sales as her impetus for their success because it’s one of the nearly impossible jobs in today’s world. Being hard-pressed with a powerful message to offer the housewife answering the door, it shows how they must sell themselves to make it in the world.

Riley Keough as Krystal and Shia LaBeouf as Jake in American Honey

Riley Keough as Krystal and Shia LaBeouf as Jake in American Honey

The actors, mostly all unknowns, portray characters that are extremely interesting, and in our own lives probably have run into each of them. Shia LaBeouf plays Jake a proven winner who can sell ice cubes to Eskimos. A real live wire he’ll turn a losing sale around in the last moment and walk away with a fist full of dollars. He brings in the most money getting special attention and privileges that the others strive to get, but seem to never attain. LaBeouf gives the audience the perfect example of persuasiveness, even though in Jake’s real life his flaws derail his ambitions. This may be a chance for LaBeouf to get a well-deserved Oscar nomination for this role in American Honey.

As the teenage single mother Star, Sasha Lane delivers her first role and it’s a terrific performance. Very believable, she’s fed up with her life experiencing the negative aspect of having a child at an early age and out of wedlock. Add to this an absent father from the household that evades her and won’t help. When Star runs into Jake at a gas station she’s taken by his freedom. Here Lane really shows her character’s strong desire to break away from her dead end life. It’s this plus three hours of her escape from her cocoon that makes the film work.

I’m not a fan of movies filmed with hand held cameras in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio as it looks like a home movie or one that’s showing on cable that’s not in HD. You know with either a black frame all around or two huge black bars on the sides as in American Honey. Although it is distracting at first, your mind should dismiss it after time. The film itself tends to drag because it’s very long, nearly 3 hours. But, it’s worth it as Director Arnold fills the lengthy film with interesting characters that have relevant issues.

American Honey has been rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout, drug/alcohol abuse-all involving teens. It also contains a scene of brutality and one of gun violence. Not for the naive or those who can be easily swayed, the movie tends to glorify deleterious social values.

FINAL ANALYSIS: American Honey has the attributes of an Oscar contender. (B)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Sasha Lane, Riley Keough, Shia LaBeouf, McCaul Lombardi, Arielle Holmes, Crystal B. Ice, Verronikah Ezell, Chad McKenzie Cox, Garry Howell, Kenneth Kory Tucker, Raymond Coalson, Isaiah Stone, Dakota Powers, Shawna Rae Mosely, Christopher David Wright.
Directed and written by: Andrea Arnold
Genre: Drama
MPAA Rating:  R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout, drug/alcohol abuse-all involving teens
Running Time: 2 hrs. 43 min.
Release Date: October 14, 2016
Distributed by: A24

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