After performing well at Cannes film festival earlier this summer, American Honey is starting its domestic run this week. The two and a half hour plus epic showcases much of America’s youth and the Midwestern region but in the end the audience is left questioning how much is really said. The neorealism elements that the film embraces such as using non actors and very tight in your face angles does breathe some artistic merit into the film, but this also greatly hinders the film’s success.
The film chronicles the life of Star, an eighteen-year-old girl, who escapes the broken home she currently lives in by joining a mag crew and touring the country. For those unfamiliar, a mag crew is a group of people who drive around the country selling magazines door to door; usually these groups consist of young adults from troubled backgrounds. Throughout Star’s time in the crew the audience is exposed to the family atmosphere the crew creates with its members, but also the horrors caused by those that recognize how powerless the youth is. Instead of telling a concise narrative where Star starts at one point and ends in another, her character is instead relatively stagnant and used instead only as a central device to highlight morality issues in every social class, and place for that matter in the Midwest. This type of storytelling opens the audience up to a lot of material that they otherwise would not experience. But in American Honey this structure does not work and ends up hurting the films message as it makes it difficult for the audience to find any structure within the film when they are viewing it, which leads to a low level of audience engagement. In the end, there is a strong feeling that the audience has seen a lot throughout the film but not much really been commented on. In order for this type of storytelling to work efficiently, then more of the events that were showcased in the film would have to have had a bigger effect on the protagonist of the film so that the audience could clearly understand their significance.
In addition to story issues, the film also has some problems in the way it was shot. While the director, Andrea Arnold, attempted to go for a unique neo-realistic feel, which is really commendable in today’s film making landscape, these choices hurt the film in several ways. The entirety of the film was shot in a 4:3 format with long lenses in hopes that it would cause the audience to feel cramped and confined like the characters in the film. Ultimately, this was not the case as it instead made one question what was going on in the film, and as a result taking away from the already thin storyline. Another neo-realism approach that the film took was using non-actors throughout the film. While traditionally this does give the film a bump in realism, for this particular story it did not work out as the story was to vague to rely on a non-actor to articulate the film’s story. In fact, the only memorable highlights in the film were the moments where the real actors, Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough, were on screen.
Ultimately, American Honey seemed to have a very clear vision of what it wanted to be, but in the end was unable to accomplish that vision. The team behind the film made some daring stylistic choices that they would have garnered a lot of praise for if they pulled them off correctly, but that is not what happened. On the bright side it is fascinating to still see a film stray so far away from the mainstream model of filmmaking in today’s world. With that being said, that does not make American Honey a good film. Therefore, Celluloid Cinema awards American Honey 2 out of 5 Reels.
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