Tuesday, 30 August 2016

AMERICAN HONEY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - More Arnold Dogme-Style Dross

American Honey (2016)
Dir. Andrea Arnold
Starring: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough

Review By Greg Klymkiw

If self-flagellation is your idea of a good time, then you might enjoy sitting through Andrea Arnold's meandering, 163-minute Dogme-style wallow through White Trash America. The rest of us might prefer a less pretentious way to blow precious moments of life on Earth, but there are plenty of pseuds out there who might get off on this. Like all of Arnold's personal work, American Honey is a dour, humourless slog. This time around, she manages to retch up a picture that's much longer than either Red Road and Fish Tank and worst of all, feels about twice its already-interminable length.

This latest Arnold schlepp through Von-Trier-Vinterberg-Cassavetes-Wannabe-Land focuses upon Star (Sasha Lane), a gorgeously grubby, dreadlocked, tattooed teen drifter on the run from a troubled childhood who finds herself caring for the kids of an abusive loser dad and a line-dancing miscreant mommy. When we first find our heroine, she and the kids are rummaging for food in a trash bin. Scoring a rancid chicken, they wander over to the local K-Mart parking lot to hitch a ride. It's here she encounters the slimily handsome Jake (Shia LaBeouf), a charismatic Pied Piper leading a group of unkempt young people as they cavort across the tarmac and into the fluorescent-light-flooded discount store.

Jake is a recruiter for his chief paramour Krystal (Riley Keough), a sexy tough-talking hustler who runs a crew of millennial magazine subscription salespeople. Star and Jake make an immediate connection and it doesn't take too long for our heroine to join the ragtag group of damaged kids in their trek across America. Sex, drugs and partying are the order of the night and by day, they wander a variety of burbs to sell their wares. Needless to say that when magazine sales are slow, there are plenty of opportunities to whore themselves out - something Star appears to be particularly adept at.

Tensions rise and fall, loyalties are challenged and by the end of the journey, Star frees a tortoise in a pond before taking a cleansing dip in it herself. This, I trust, is meant to mean something.

There's nothing especially wrong with a movie focusing upon aimless youth in a crazy, empty America and Arnold certainly serves up more than a few evocative images and elicits a clutch of fresh performances. Unfortunately, she lets scenes run on forever and we're all supposed to be enamoured with the improvisational yammering and activities - most of which is captured in glorious (not) shaky-cam.

One wants to give points to any filmmaker that takes us out of our comfort zone as viewers, but so much of what transpires feels egregiously willy-nilly and though the intent is to provide considerable food for thought, most everything that transpires is as wispy and forgettable as the empty lives of its characters.

The picture is finally forgettable, save for the boils on our butts from sitting though it in the first place. For an experiential picture to work its magic and veer beyond the ephemeral, it requires some formal control and a clear sense of what it really wants to be. Alas, the movie has very little idea of anything other than letting the camera roll interminably, resulting in the kind of psuedo-Neo-realist floundering that titillates critics, film festival programmers and all other hoity-toity granola bars who need to suffer in order to feel like what they're watching is art.

Suffering is one thing, but suffering through a wank is something else altogether. It's nice to feel like the wanking comes from a place of genuine skill, designed to generate the kind of orgasmic blast that allows its wanker and wank-watching audience to feel something. You see, no matter how deep the chasm of humanity we're plunged into is, it's no crime for the filmmaking itself to be joyous.


American Honey is TIFF 2016 Special Presentation.