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American Honey

Directed by Andrea Arnold

      18-year-old Star (Sasha Lane) lives with her poor, dysfunctional family in a small Oklahoma town. After she meets Jake (Shia LaBeouf) at a local Walmart, she leaves her two younger step-siblings with her mother and leaves her abusive stepfather to run away with Jake and his friends. Jake works as a door-to-door magazine salesman, and persuades his manager, Krystal (Riley Keough), to hire her. Jake who agrees to train her while they hit the road in a van together with other young, eager salespeople.

      To merely describe American Honey's plot wouldn't do it any justice. It's the kind of film that must be experienced, especially on the big screen. Yes, there is a briefly intense scene involving a gun, but it doesn't play out in the way that Hollywood conditions audiences to think that it would play out. Writer/director Andrea Arnold is the kind of director who, much like Richard Linklater, is a humanist who knows how and when to trust the audience's intelligence, imagination and patience. For the entire duration of the film, you're experiencing and observing whatever transpires to Star much more than you're judging her. When she's sad, you're sad. When she's excited, you're excited. When she's bored from the tedium of her experiences, you're bored along with her. Expect to be going through a roller coaster ride of thoughts and emotions that might take you a while to absorb it all. It's not always easy to figure out what Star is thinking exactly per se, but that's alright. There's nothing wrong with leaving room for interpretation. The more time you spend with Star, the more you can piece together the little details of her family life, personality and thoughts/feelings while getting to know her as a complex, flawed human being. It helps tremendously that Sasha Lane gives a breakthrough performance that reaches the core of Star's emotional truth. You might even find Star to be relatable because, after all, the more specific a story is, the more it tends to be universal and easy for you to connect at least somewhat to the characters. Unlike with Hollywood films, the sum of American Honey is much greater than its parts.

     The film's "slice of life" and slow-burning approach is best appreciated by perceptive, patient audiences who don't like to be spoon-fed information through exposition and have their hands held tightly by the writer/director. If you pay attention, you'll notice the commentary on the decay of our shallow American society/culture and of the hypocrisies/deceptions of the "American Dream" for regardless of whether one is from the upper, middle and lower class. The implications of that honest message depends on how close you think Americans are to the Romans. Perhaps all of the shallow superhero films plaguing our multiplexes serve as our bread and circuses. While Star goes through can be considered "depressing" to a certain degree, so what if it's a little depressing? At least it's unflinchingly honest, profound and human, above all. Within the ugliness of human nature, there's some lyrical beauty to be found. Notice the symbolism of nature throughout the film and how it parallels Star's life. Human nature, after all, isn't fundamentally very different from other forms of nature. At a running time of 162 minutes, which actually feels shorter, American Honey is a mesmerizing, heartbreaking, poetic, provocative and haunting experience. Patient and perceptive audiences will be rewarded the most.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by A24 Films.
Now playing at Landmark Sunshine Cinema and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.
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