The 400-Word Review: American Honey
By Sean Collier
October 19, 2016
The most poignant and affecting moments of American Honey, the indie drama from writer/director Andrea Arnold, depict the realities of contemporary poverty in the United States: dumpster diving to feed children, cycles of addiction being passed from one generation to the next, the very idea of change eroding into an impossible dream.
Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between. Mostly, we just hang out with some boring young people.
We meet 18-year-old Star (Sasha Lane) as she’s half-heartedly caring for a pair of elementary-aged children; they’re not hers, but we never quite work out what the relationships in Star’s life amount to. In any case, circumstances are not particularly good, so when a crew of young drifters containing crusty dreamboat Jake (Shia LaBeouf) rolls up, Star pawns the tykes off and hits the road.
The premise: Jake and his crew are roaming the country attempting to sell magazine subscriptions door-to-door, under the purview of slightly older and frequently nude boss figure Krystal (Riley Keough). The act is nominally not a scam — the customers do end up getting some magazines, we assume — but the methods of sale are often underhanded, appealing to fictional church missions and educational fundraisers.
In any case, Star couldn’t care less about the gig, which doesn’t stop Jake from falling for her. He’s got some kind of a situation going on with Krystal, though, but absolutely no one in this movie ever talks about anything meaningful or makes their situation clear, so everyone — including the audience — is left guessing.
The problem: Absolutely none of the characters in this film are even momentarily likable or interesting. A movie can get away with eschewing one half of that pair — interesting and unlikable or uninteresting but likable. But woe be unto the pretentious indie filmmaker who tries to make a resonant film without giving the viewer any reason to connect with a single character, which is very much the case here.
All of which would be more than enough for me to recommend passing on American Honey. But then we get to the true, unforgivable offense.
This pointless ramble is 163 minutes long. Seventeen minutes shy of a full three hours.
I’m all for movies stretching the runtime when it’s justified. I can’t name a case with less justification for doing so. American Honey is aimless, self-indulgent, masturbatory effluvium. Do not watch it.
My Rating: 2/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark