American Honey

American Honey ★½

A recurring visual metaphor in Andrea Arnold's woefully misguided American Honey is trapped insects. Floating aimlessly in pools of water, a worm at the bottle of a bottle of hard liquor, swarming over scraps of food; trapped in a world that treats them like leftovers. It's an eye-rollingly obvious metaphor for these lost youth, forced to peddle meaningless products to survive. And these "leftover" characters are awfully paper-thin, defined more by their missing teeth or blemishes then they are by actual demeanor. And note that I'm not wrongly expecting an archetype, I realize these are supposed to be "real" people. But their "realness" only extends to that which separates them from those you'd deem "artificial", meaning their physical flaws and shortcomings seem to trump any actual development; natural or otherwise.

It's infuriating how naive this film is. So many of these odes to youth, these films sympathizing with the underprivileged, disaffected and disillusioned members of society; particularly the youthful among them, are so juvenile. American Honey is an aimless fetishization of progressive ideals; a hollow and irrelevant critique of the supposed degradation of the American Dream. There's nothing meaningful here, just countless swooning shots of crazed backyard parties and painfully obvious evocations of America seen in the minutia of it's society.

I recognize that the naive nature of these freewheeling odes to youth is somewhat inherent, but when executed with so little nuance and intelligence; it feels abhorrently gratuitous. There's a scene early in the film in which Star and Shia's Jake enter a wealthy, Christian home. As Jake tries to sell to a perfectly polite woman, Star quickly maligns her for a nonexistent elitism and an exaggerated display of her hypocrisy. The scene started out perfectly fine, it felt believable, measured and nuanced; but as Arnold seemed to lose patience, she decides to turn the obviousness of her ideas to a 10, simultaneously nixing the thematic and narrative integrity of the scene.

Arnold is more amused by these teen's actions than she is thoughtful. The outrageousness rings true, but the pain does not. This isn't a film that represents my generation, quite the contrary in fact. American Honey is a deflated balloon, colorful but devoid of purpose entirely. Arnold has the ingredients here. Sasha Lane shows real potential, Shia is quite magnificent, and the youth of America are ripe for exploration. But anytime she comes close to finding profundity, she cuts back to poorly utilized exploitation in the form of ludicrous antics or arbitrary expressions of anger. American Honey just seems to know very little about the generation it depicts, and is in no way capable of tapping into the pain and uncertainty Arnold tries to build this film around. It's just another head-in-the-clouds exercise in trivial pandering, an egregiously long effort in empathy that ultimately feels more than a little insulting.

2016 Ranked

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