HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: American Honey
HTS Overall Score:69
Andrea Arnold is a bit of an eccentric director. Well, not eccentric HERSELF (at least from what I can tell), but certainly a fan of eccentric film making. Her bread and butter are films that you would see at the top of the Cannes or Sundance Film Festivals and her audience are usually rabid supporters of those type of artsy films. I have a tendency for like the odd and strange in the film making world as well as the big and dumb, but Andrea Arnold is rather hit or miss for this reviewer. I LOOOOVE “Fish Tank” (one of the best criterion discs I own), but stuff like “Red Road” doesn’t really cut the mustard for me. Strangely I find “American Honey” a middle of the road experience for me. It has a rawness and visceral grunge that is appealing, but the constant use of abrupt and harsh cuts (not to mention the almost 3-hour runtime that could have been trimmed for a full hour) made for a seemingly plotless film. Much of the movie is just us watching Star shift from scene to scene with cuts that are sharp and abrupt, making it seem like we’re watching a series of vignettes rather than a complete film.
The backstory behind Andrea finding Sasha Lane is almost like something you’d hear out of a “To Catch a Predator” episode. Sasha Lane was visiting a beach down south when she noticed she was being followed by a woman. Followed for quite some time in fact, and it was getting creepy. The thing is, the woman following her was Andrea Arnold looking for her next star (ironically named Star in the film). She caught sight of Sasha and just followed her around, watching her interact naturally. Finally, Andrea had gotten enough visual information and walked up to the young girl and introduced herself and offered her a casting session on the spot. One thing led to another and voila, instant lead character.
We’re introduced to Star (Sasha Lane) through a sequence that is visibly and emotionally disturbing as She and a couple of young (and I mean young) children root through a garbage container looking for food to eat. We’re neve clued in to HOW Star got to be in this situation, but we ARE allowed to know that these kids are not her own, but rather tools in her trade of survival. Soon after we’re introduced to star we’re introduced to Jake (Shia, in a role that actually allows him to act instead of being another “social experiment” like he’s done the last several years), a fast talking grifter who takes a shine to pretty girl. It seems that Jake is part of a crew of roving teenagers under the thumb of Krystal (Riley Keough) who go from state to state, town to town looking for victims in a magazine sales scam.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=87785[/img]We get a few scenes where the tale of Star and her young wards are wrapped up, but it’s fairly obvious that her life is in shambles and she needs some stability, which prompts her to accept Jake’s offer to come along and be part of the gang. Soon Star is hustling with the best of them, offering magazine sales for instant cash and then moving on to the next town and adapting their style to suit their intended targets. What starts off as just a hustle tuns into something more as Star starts to fall for Jake (who obviously has some sort of sexual desire for her), but there’s a strange tension between Jake and Krystal too, one that builds and builds as the two females face off more than a few times.
“American Honey” is really a series of isolated scenes that almost act as their own little movie before switching to the next more than a truly coherent plot. There’s a loose structure about the magazine sales and the weird chemistry between Jake and Star, but really the film is one giant loop of vignettes about Star and her journey. There’s a reason I say that Andrea’s films tend to appeal to the art house lovers and those who make up film festivals like Cannes and Sundance. This venture is her most esoteric yet, blending subtle humor and attempted oddity to carry the story. Sadly, the lack of a plot is REALLY hindering for the film and the fact that it runs about one hour too long doesn’t help much either. I really felt like the movie is best watched in 30-40 minute intervals rather than trying to watch it all at once. I usually decry watching a film like that because it breaks up the flow and makes for rough viewing when you’re trying to remember what happened the last time you watched, but in this case it’s actually more of a boon than a detriment.
I really have to wonder how poorly the film might have done had it not been for Andrea Arnold’s discovery of Sasha Lane. Sasha COMPLETELY steals every scene she’s in with a sense of vulnerability and raw sensitivity. It was a breakout performance for her and one that has garnered her a LOT of respect as well as 4 upcoming movie rolls after “American Honey” debuted at the Cannes film festival. Most new actors are rough around the edges, but Sasha blends right in while keeping that sense of being the “newbie” (which actually works in this situation) and full of raw emotion and fear. Her portrayal of Star is the one thing that kept me interested when the movie’s rambling plot might have deterred me from watching any further.
Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout, drug/alcohol abuse-all involving teens
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=87793[/img]“American Honey” is definitely unique in more than the just the “event” style storytelling. Using a mixture of digital cameras and good old fashioned 35mm celluloid, it is shown in the old academy 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Something that should capture the eye of viewers right off the bat. While there are two listed formats for the film (Arri Alexa digital cameras and 35mm film) the two differing mediums seem to have a fairly symbiotic relationship. Nothing ever seems drastically different from shot to shot and the imagery could be construed as using one source if you didn’t know that this was a hybrid film. Colors are warm and overly saturated at times. Playing with lots of greens, golds and hues of blues to create the “honeyed” look that the film carries in the name. fine detail is usually excellent, with crisp facial details and good backgrounds, but the cameras are employed in a method that makes the image look softer than it is (something which causes me a bit of head scratching). The film is kind of grungy and dirty in both story and look and while the image looks incredibly well formulated and crisp, it also feels raw and rough at the same time. Something which was probably VERY intentional by some of the optical effects used throughout.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=87801[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA lossless audio track is definitely just as pleasing as the video, using certain auditory queues and a tendency to have multiple people talking at the same time add to the uniqueness of the film. The ambiance is rather exciting and aggressive, as Star and Jake spend a lot of time out of doors, with the natural environment of the city beaches and other locations add in their own hustle and bustle. Dialog is crisp and clean, but I do notice that there is a lot of moments where people are speaking over each other to the point where it’s hard to localize the at times. It’s never overly annoying or frustrating, but it makes for a slightly chaotic front sound stage. The LFE channel can drive home so very powerful moments and come through with a wild ferocity that is surprising considering the low-key nature of the rest of the track (sometimes a little TOO powerful IMO). It’s a unique and stylish film and definitely has a unique audio track as well.
• "Sasha Lane and Riley Keough on American Honey" Interview
Andrea Arnold has a unique style of storytelling, and seems to love focusing on teenagers or young adults who slum it more often than not. She’s a favorite of the Cannes Film festivals and tends to really gear herself towards the art house audience with her offerings. Very bluntly, she’s a love it or hate it type of director. I fall someplace in between with this one, even though I adored “Fish Tank” (you really need to check out the Criterion Blu-ray for “Fish Tank”, one of her best works). “American Honey” is a bit too much like an experiment with scene filming, just flitting from one scene to the next without any overarching storyline and arguably running about an hour too long. Audio and video are very solid for the Lionsgate release, but sadly the extras are pretty much nonexistent. Worth checking out if you’re a fan of Andrea Arnold’s previous works, but I’d personally rent it if you’re not sure.
Starring: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough
Directed by: Andrea Arnold
Written by: Andrea Arnold
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 162 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: December 27th 2016
Buy American Honey On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Good Watch
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