Blu-ray Review: American Honey

By , Contributor
Writer-director Andrea Arnold's American Honey is one of the very best movies of 2016. If you've seen Arnold's astounding Fish Tank (2009), and if not you really should, the stylistic and thematic similarities are immediately apparent. Arnold has a way of slowly revealing the emotional cores of inarticulate, downtrodden characters. Honey centers on teenager Star (Sasha Lane, in a thrillingly full-bodied debut performance) and her desire to get away from her deadbeat mom, who has apparently left her in charge of two younger siblings (or half-siblings, or step-siblings, it's never clear). She lives with an older man who may be her stepfather. While the foundation of their relationship (just as with the two younger kids) isn't entirely clear, the fact that he is taking advantage of her sexually is unmissable. She wants out of this dumpster-diving misery, but doesn't know how.

When Star is impressed by the carefree, fun-loving Jake (Shia LaBeouf), she embarks on a "career" as a door-to-door magazine salesperson. I've encountered such scammers before and immediately recognized some of the pitch that Star and her "crew" force upon unwitting potential customers. Arnold's depiction of this unseemly subculture is fascinating in and of itself. Run by "manager" Krystal (Riley Keough, daughter of Lisa Marie Presley, and a formidable actress), these wayward souls travel around from city to city with boundless enthusiasm. They're sort of modern-day nomads, sleeping at cheap motels after long days spent in a variety of neighborhoods. Their unwavering goal: selling overpriced magazine subscriptions that are supposedly intended to fund scholarship programs. It's all total B.S. Tell big lies, sell lots of subscriptions. But Star doesn't want to lie.

Besides LaBeouf and Keough, most of Honey's cast is made up of first-time actors. They're all entirely believable as a motley crew of lost children. Though he's a bit long in the tooth for such a strikingly young bunch, LaBeouf acquits himself nicely with his finely-tuned portrayal of good-natured cluelessness (LaBeouf really is a fine actor, unfairly trounced by people who mostly seem to take issue with his off-screen life). But Arnold gives Star the most-defined character arc. And Sasha Lane makes the most of it. American Honey is not a film with any easy lessons or obvious answers, but Lane shows us Star's consistent humanity and compassion as she inches ever-so-slightly out of adolescence and into adulthood.

Honey's only deficit is it's too-leisurely 163-minute running time, and even that shouldn't scare you off. But interestingly enough, I didn't really feel the length while watching the film. The unusual "plot" beats (there's very little plot to speak of, this film is more of study in lifestyle), believable acting, and ultimately unpredictability keep it imminently watchable. While it might've benefited somewhat from a few of its less-essential moments edited out, American Honey is not to be missed.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray is exceedingly light on supplements, with a five-minute interview piece with Keough and Lane being its only feature. But the disc is technically strong, visually striking for Andrea Arnold's curious choice to frame her film in 1.33:1 (square, essentially, like old CRT televisions).
American Honey BD (317x380).jpg

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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