American Honey

American Honey ★½


In Andrea Arnold's sprawling - and I mean *sprawling* - American Honey, America is seen as the land of opportunity greedily lost to its own interests, and the camera shines its uniquely expressive eye on the leftovers. Extra beings with dreams and nothing more, desperately trying to get ahead but only falling further behind when they try. It's a concept similarly explored by artists such as Harmony Korine, Gus Van Sant, and Sofia Coppola, but Arnold's film is a valiant effort in how it clings to detail. If I have anything remotely positive to say about American Honey, it is Arnold's whimsy in the particular; following bugs, dogs, cats, birds, and anything which catches her eye in order to capture a larger tapestry of vivid incident and vigorous states of living. But it is in Arnold's attempt at construction - an overwhelming road trip of America and its little pockets of joy, anger, jealousy - which launches a trainwreck of misguided scenes and obvious metaphors, somehow lasting 2 hours and 43 fucking minutes.

For one, Arnold doesn't really care about the blemishes and flaws of her characters. Her cloying, blatantly intimate camera gets up close and personal with her subjects, but it's just another sly add on for her textural framework, and it results in every character being lost in the canvas rather than impacting its movement. No one goes past 'lingering close-up' or 'lonely expression' or 'wild partying' even though they're integral to the journey. It makes Star's gentle, even quite beautiful POV all the more disappointing because none of the cascading highway exit tangents contribute to an interesting collage or a fascinating sensory document. It all rushes by in a blur - a goofy mirage of parties and bong hits and urinating dogs - but the audience never connects to the gang and the movie never allows them to come out of their shell and be an actual character rather than a set-type.

And even when setting the supposedly 'distanced' moment-to-moment character journeys aside, Arnold's filmmaking is just godawful. Her eye for setting is great but she never populates it with interesting situations or people, and it becomes unexplored, lost to odd routes rather than finding the essence of an environment and delving into it. She has characters wander into large mansions, with Star (our lead) wide-eyed, and yet, it's impossible to come to terms with the artificial beauty of the space or the vastness compared to her individual experience. Arnold keeps cutting back to a group of young teens dancing seductively in the backyard instead - a boring synchronicity of mutual rebellion and sexual emergence - of soaking in potential character significance, and her love for pronounced, silly metaphors soon become laughable by the time the film is halfway through its egregious runtime, culminating in a confrontation with a bear which is simultaneously gorgeous and unspeakably intolerable.

Arnold does have some inspiring scenes - the two sex scenes are electric and exhilarating because they actually combine the carnal and the tactility of nature successfully - but most fall under the trap of either being brushed past or being built around the lame, boring central ideas which Arnold is depicting. It doesn't help that, like a friend of mine put it, "half of it looked like it was shot on a toaster", with the jangled impressions trying to continuously impress with faux-authenticity and loud, pseudo displays of archaic A M E R I C A evocations. This movie is completely unimaginative in spite of being conceived around situations and ideas which are inherently vibrant, alive, and startling. Arnold's ultimate failure is letting it fall into dullsville even when all the ingredients are present and ready to perform. A missed opportunity and a staggering, monumental air-ball of a film.

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