With American Honey, British director Andrea Arnold ventures out with her road movie, implying something altogether bigger, broader, bolder. Making huge leaps across the waters to produce a film set in the States, Arnold certainly has afforded the right to do so, proven herself a worthy maker of films with authenticity, integrity and ground level human scope. A much-buzzed about Cannes-favorite, American Honey, steps a little outside of Arnold’s usual comfort zone, but still retains her grasp of the craft of memorable film-making. That said, her latest effort is not as glorious as the wave of praise suggests. Some fine moments, sure, but this is certainly no Fish Tank.
A break-out central performance from Sasha Lane just about carries the movie to the finish line, but at close to three hours it is a long, long journey. What the screenplay tends to do is rely on its own regurgitation of the same character frictions and life lessons to be learnt. Arnold, too, really goes to town with her music playlist, cramming the picture with so many songs, acquired tastes many of them, that too often do we have to witness on-the-road sing-alongs it loses novelty faster than I would have liked. Back to Lane, though, an assured performance, her heavy expressions and no-fear attitude display her character’s inner turmoil, while Shia LaBeouf just seems to be playing another misunderstood idiot. Hard to believe why our heroine would be smitten with this guy for so long. Hats off to Riley Keough, in super-bitch mode, devours the scenery when she enters, and is mercilessly under-used and under-developed.
I’ll rave about the Robbie Ryan cinematography though, given a clear platform to really let his hair down with his talent for visual scope and outdoor lighting. Arnold has not particular tripped here, her dedication and determination are all over this. There’s a comforting, semi-exciting feel at times as we spend time crammed into the mini-bus as roadies discuss their Darth Vader obsessions or show off their unusual pets. There are some real highlights – the strolling bear; the shopping for the kids of a junkie mom; Lane’s Star calling out LeBouf’s Jake in her first canvassing opportunity. But add to that some questionable rather than affecting plot shifts, it is just not enough in the end given the film’s over-long duration.