American Honey

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Remember when you were young and did a long road trip that ended up being boring? This is before iphones and other things could keep you busy. If you didn’t have the right group of friends or family members (and Creedence cassettes), it could be a long haul. Unfortunately, that’s what this movie felt like. A lot of non-actors were used in smaller roles, as a bunch of homeless and disenfranchised youth traveling across the U.S. to sell magazine subscriptions and scam wealthy folks.

It’s the perfect movie for Shia LaBeouf, who seems to want to avoid the blockbusters like Transformers, and do indie art films with lots of nudity (anybody see Nymphomaniac?). He has great chemistry with newcomer Shasha Lane (who plays “Star”). The problem is that they don’t have a script, and not a thing in this film feels the least bit plausible.

Star leaves home, where she’s taking care of two children. Either her older lover, or stepdad, is obviously abusive to her. So she goes to a bar where the kids’ real mom is, and leaves them for her.

Since Star had a meet-cute (that wasn’t the least bit “cute”) the day before at a grocery store with Shia, she decides she’ll take a job with his rag-tag group of losers. One of the problems is that they’re all interchangeable and one-dimensional. We find out one likes Darth Vader; another likes to flash everyone. They all like to smoke, drink, and get rowdy. Oh, and sing along to rap songs.

Part of the problem with LaBeouf in this role is that…had he not become an actor, this is probably the type of life he’d lead (at least with all the news accounts of the trouble he’s gotten into, it feels that way). It’s the type of role that’s a bit more enjoyable if James Franco played the part.

Writer-director Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank) captures some beautiful shots of middle America, but the script felt like a first draft. It also doesn’t give the motivations behind the characters, and doesn’t feel like Arnold (a British filmmaker) even understands Americans, beyond some stereotypes. The script needed an hour trimmed from the 2 hour and 47 minutes (of which I only lasted two hours before splitting).

Perhaps I would’ve been more patient if I didn’t have a racquetball tournament I was going to. I might have been more patient if I didn’t just see the movie White Girl a few weeks earlier, which also had gratuitous drug/sex scenes. Both films were trying to capture youth the way Kids did almost 20 years ago.

When this group stops in various places, it would’ve been a great opportunity to show not just the various towns, but more of the characters. Early on, when we see Shia training Star, it’s fun to see how the various strangers open their doors and interact with them. I wanted a lot more of that. It’s what made the movie The Messenger (Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster) so interesting. Everyone reacts differently.

Also, the amount of implausible situations just keep piling up. I can’t tell you what happens with these three older cowboys that pick up Star, but…you wonder why cops aren’t called and people aren’t arrested.

You also wonder why a hotel clerk wouldn’t call the cops when they’re shooting firecrackers in the parking lot. I know, I know…indie films need to have fireworks. Now, I loved the fireworks in Blue Valentine. Even going back to Fandango (Kevin Costner’s best movie and first starring role). This movie seems to use things that were done successfully in other indie films, and ruin them (another example would be standing up or hanging out the top of a convertible or van, done so much better in The Perks of Being a Wallflower with Heroes by Bowie playing).

There were also things in the script that didn’t make a lot of sense. For example, the first time Star goes door-to-door with Shia, she is shocked by the fact that he’s lying about why he needs to sell the magazines. It ruins the sale. Another time, she gets mad that the woman laughs at him when he says he wants to study politics in college. That puts her in a rage that ruins another possible sale. And she was the most likable of the bunch! So, when you have 15 young people that are all so deplorable and uninteresting…and the one we kind of liked in the beginning makes bad decisions…we check out. It just becomes monotonous, idiotic, and not worth your time.

Perhaps I just have some anger towards it because I bought three magazine subscriptions from kids like this that came to my door when I was 30. Two of the three I bought never arrived, and months later, I realized I was scammed. Yet that’s the type of story that should’ve made me interested to be immersed in these folks’ lives, to see how they ply their trade. After all, we found it fascinating when they did that in Glengarry Glen Ross, right?

There’s terrific cinematography and a few good performances, including one from Riley Keough — who was good in The Runaways — and got accolades for the show The Girlfriend Experience. She’s also Elvis’s granddaughter, and doesn’t look half bad in a Confederate flag bikini (or naked).

I don’t want to be cruel, but this only gets 1 ½ stars out of 5.

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