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American Honey

Year: 2016
Production Co: Parts and Labor
Director: Andrea Arnold
Writer: Andrea Arnold
Cast: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough

This movie is being lauded as an indie classic at the moment, industry reaction that might prompt you to wonder if you've walked into the wrong movie. Making a movie that's so long where so little happens is quite an achievement.

We meet Star (Sasha Lane) living the American nightmare in Texas, dumpster diving for food for her little brother and sister, doing her best to take care of them while living with a deadbeat boyfriend and with her mother more interested in line dancing and drinking than providing for her family.

While carrying a formerly frozen chicken she's fished out of the garbage, Star takes the bedraggled kids across the street to the supermarket to see what they can score. While there, a van full of youths pull up, all of them laughing and having a great time, and she catches the eye of ringleader Jake (Shia LaBeouf, continuing on the mission of his I'm Not Famous paper bag and performance art pieces in edgy roles).

He explains that they drive all over the heartland selling magazine subscriptions while they party and drink, and it's a glimpse of the kind of freedom Star's hardly dare dreamed about. She climbs out the window of the trailer she shares with the loser, leaves the kids with their mother and literally runs away, getting into their van and riding into the sunset.

From there, the story really doesn't do anything. Half of it's like a music video for a cool alt-rock band – young, tattooed bohemians driving around, smoking and drinking, the camera slowly wheeling around in the van to linger over their too-cool-for-you lifestyle.

But such hedonistic behaviour still falls victim to human – even biological – qualities like jealousness or sexual possessiveness. Star wants Jake (and he's only to happy to take her to bed), but he seems to be the sexual plaything and aide-de-camp to Krystal (Riley Keough), the leader of the band and business owner Star doesn't dare cross.

She reacts to his lack of loyalty by a lot of actions that are frankly stupid, torpedoing potential sales when she and Jake have partnered up and have their foot in the door of a mark by starting an argument with him, walking off in a huff like a kid, etc.

At one point she gets in a car with three wealthy old cowboys, accompanying them to their house, stripping half naked and drinking beyond her capacity just to spite what she sees as Jake's infidelity. As the three men ply her with more alcohol, laughing and staring lecherously, it seems like writer/director Andrea Arnold is setting Star up for the worst possible lesson about stranger danger, only to have the scene go far too long and end all too implausibly and limply.

As the audience, you can see that her behaviour is just going to get her into more trouble than she can handle, and if American Honey is supposed to be a fable about growing up disadvantages it has nothing new to say. We've seen the story about nihilistic teenagers and twentysomething a thousand times.

But even without anything new to offer in the way of a story, it wastes about 30 minutes of the already slow pace with endless slow panning shots around the van as the crew share bongs and bottles, listen to loud hip hop, laugh and make eyes at each other.

It at least has a sense of style (again, nothing you can't see from the latest acoustic band that got their break on Kickstarter), but there's no drama apart from the same 'she took my boyfriend' shenanigans you can see in movies for tweens nowadays and none of the characters grow or develop, they just drive endlessly around the wide open spaces of the American south west. When you start to wonder if the second sex scene is a good place to leave, it's a clear sign the movie's not working.

As Star, Sasha Lane might have some talent, but it's not showcased here. Like a lot of 'good' performances, hindsight makes it clear it's the camerawork, soundtrack and mood that make the role. She doesn't have much to do but pout her impressive lips, shake out her dreadlocks and occasionally lean her head back orgasmically towards the sun with her feet sticking out of the window of a car.

And for all his nutjob antics off screen, LeBeouf is at least a good actor, the script just doesn't call on him to be much more than a sleazy and slightly predatory greaseball. All in all you've seen American Honey elsewhere, and you've seen it done far better.

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