Friday, 7 October 2016

American Honey (EIFF 8)

While nowhere near as overrated as Toni Erdmann, American Honey has received a lot of critical acclaim and won the Jury Prize at Cannes this year (runner-up for the Palme d’Or, which was won by I, Daniel Blake). For me, the acclaim is not deserved, though I’m glad I had a chance to watch the film.

Written and directed by Andrea Arnold, whose previous two films (Red Road and Fish Tank) both received four stars from me, American Honey stars Sasha Lane as Star, an eighteen-year-old young woman who spontaneously joins a group of fellow misfits on the road, selling magazines. Uncomfortable with the sales pitches and much of the team’s lifestyle, Star nevertheless stays with the sales team and does her best to fit in while maintaining a strong independence. The heart of the film is Star’s relationship with Jake (Shia LaBeouf), the team’s charismatic (and over-the-top) and most-successful salesperson, who himself has a unique relationship with Krystal (Riley Keough), the team’s leader. 

The story of Star is a fascinating coming-of-age road film that I actually resonated with quite strongly, as I was also part of such a travelling sales team for a month when I was nineteen (unlike Star, I quickly gave up on the team’s sales gimmicks and bizarre lifestyle and resigned when I was offered a major promotion). And Lane’s acting is natural and excellent, making it easy to sympathize with Star, unlike the rest of the team members, though the acting was also solid enough throughout and I appreciated the character depth. I enjoyed many individual scenes and conversations in American Honey and found the screenplay original and often entertaining, if not always compelling.

Which leads me to the film’s biggest flaw, a flaw so big it prevents me from awarding American Honey more than three stars. The flaw? For what it offers, the 162-minute American Honey is a full hour too long. Far too many scenes were unnecessary or went on much too long (a flaw shared with Toni Erdmann). I love long films. Many of my favourite films are around three hours long. But a 162-minute film needs to earn its length. American Honey fails to do that and many in the EIFF audience agreed with me.

So American Honey gets a solid ***. My mug is up, but don’t watch it if you’re tired.

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