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American Honey


Stars: Sasha Lane, Riley Keough, Shia LaBeouf, Raymond Coalson, Chad McKenzie Cox, Verronikah Ezell, Arielle Holmes, Garry Howell, Crystal B Ice, McCaul Lombardi, Shawna Rae Moseley, Dakota Powers, Isaiah Stone, Kenneth Kory Tucker, Christopher David Wright

Director: Andrea Arnold

Most weeks usually see the release of at least one film that is almost guaranteed to be overloaded with critical praise.

More often than not, these movies are either foreign (subtitles almost always confirm a film as ‘art’), directed by a established auteur, or a re-release whose artistic value has long ago been proved. (Ironically, in this respect, back in 1927, one British reviewer dismissed The Lodger – but at that time Hitchcock’s auteur status had yet to be established).

So, fortunately for writer-director Andrea Arnold, her dramatically undernourished, largely pointless and, in the final analysis, seemingly endless “long hours journey into very little” has been greeted by many as an auteuristic masterpiece.

But remember, reviewers are very fortunate – they get to see films for free. Were cinemagoers allowed in free to see this supremely self-indulgent offering and then made to pay – and pay heavily – to be allowed to leave before the end, then might well break box-office records.

But, even if British filmgoers are lucky enough to miss all 163 minutes of it, they will have already paid for it – twice. The titles tell all – BFI and lottery money and publicly funded Channel 4 spent our cash.

In the latter case, the movie looks as though it was made for the small screen, being filmed in the vintage screen shape 1.37:1, the ratio officially approved by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1932, known as the Academy Ratio.

At least it will fit the small screen.

The storyline, such as it is, follows a teenage girl (first-timer Lane) who, with nothing to keep her, flees her troubled home and joins a bunch of adolescents with fake IDs who travel across the American Midwest selling (probably fake) magazines from door to door.

And it doesn’t take her long to fall in with the group's louche ways, with drinking, partying, law-breaking and casual sex…

If I have made the emaciated plot (do I flatter Arnold by using the word ‘plot’?) seem even vaguely enticing, I apologise. Tedium sets in rapidly and permanently thanks in major measure to Arnold’s apparent inability (or refusal?) to write/shoot a short scene when an overlong and dramatically undernourished one will do.

And apparently it was filmed in chronological order and improvised into the bargain – not a great idea in the final analysis.

If you can imagine a bad, over-sexed under-written and barely characterized 1960s beach movie written and shot in 21st century style but without narrative drive or genuinely interesting/entertaining incident, you might be fortunate to consider missing the movie after all.

Given the material, Lane does as well as can be expected, La Beouf works hard but is ultimately flattened and if the rest of the cast is lucky, then American Honey (a Bee movie or a B movie?) might not be held against them.

On the credit side, the well-chosen small-town locations add a measure of truth to the poor storytelling. And Robbie Ryan’s magnificent cinematography belongs to a better picture.

To be fair, one line “Do me a favour – will you be quiet!” worked for me. Unfortunately neither Arnold nor the players took any notice and carried on regardless.

Alan Frank

USA 2016. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour.
163 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 3, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 2, Swearing 3.

Review date: 22 Oct 2016