Wednesday, December 28, 2016

"American Honey" is a bittersweet odyssey through our nation's pride land.

American Honey Review
What constitutes for a great movie? Also, what makes a movie one of the best of the year? Does it have to be important? Does it have to be relevant to social or political issues? Does it have to have cutting edge special effects or made big money at the box office? I don't believe so, I never ever have. I truly believe I never will. The best movies out there are special because they tap into us emotionally, mentally, intellectually and physically. Some of my favorite movies of all time feel like a religious, almost astral experience for me. They don't have to do something special, how they play out, how they are acted and written, how they make me feel...that is what truly matters. I have never wanted nor tried to be some snobbish critic who has some other agenda besides film. I am just in love with the experience and circumstance of movie watching. That is why I am here.

Tonight, I watched one of the best movies of the year. It could very well be my favorite film of the year, we will just have to wait and see. (Still got some last-minute cramming to do before I make my final list). But I feel revolutionized, I feel revitalized, and I realized once more why I love this medium. That's what a great film can do, and that is what Andrea Arnold's "American Honey" did for me tonight.

What is "American Honey?" Its someone's chase for the pursuit of happiness. Its a heartbroken vision of the American Dream realized. Its a bittersweet, delirious, and deranged fable across the heartland of our great nation. Its a vision of our culture and society through drunken dancing, song lyrics and social media photos. We follow the life of Star (Sasha Lane), and in the beginning of the film, we see her digging through garbage trying to find food that is still fresh. She is accompanied by two small children, could they be her siblings? As they try to hitchhike home, Sasha locks eyes with Jake (Shia LaBeouf..yes THAT Shia LaBeouf). Star follows Jake into a K-Mart and its one of those young love-at-first-sight-moments. They talk, they flirt, but he's going soon. Leaving for Kansas City for a business opportunity and he wants Star to join. He doesn't know her, but he can already tell he likes. That chemical rush of affection and attraction is more he can bare, and I am blown away that we can feel it as an audience. We get a quick view of Star's home life. Her real mother is dead, her foster parents barely register as parents. The foster mom goes out with another man, the foster father gropes Star. Its a sorrowful life, and Star doesn't need it. She's young and she needs a fresh start so she can live the life she wants and truly needs. So takes up Jake's request, and leaves for Kansas with him.

Seems Jake is apart of a massive crew who drives cross-country across the United States, selling magazine door-to-door. Their boss is Krystal (Riley Keough) and its clear right away how seriously she takes her magazine selling business. Its hard to tell if its for real or if its a scam. It can easily be interpreted to go either way. The crew Jake and Krystal work with and who adopt Star as their own are a battered cast of millennial misfits. They drink too much alcohol. They smoke too many cigarettes. They know every line of every song, no matter if its country or rap. They break out into fights. They show each other their privates. Its a wild, adrenaline-fueled group, but Star couldn't feel more free. For once in her life, she's free. She's likes Jake and Jake likes her, but will that cause problems eventually with the Krystal's business?

What ensues is a hurricane of life experience for Star and what Andrea Arnold does best is making sure the audience feels every moment of it. At almost three hours, that running time may wither people away, but I assure you, the time flies. When a near three hour movie feels like an hour long movie, that's great craftsmanship on the director's part. Some people have complained that the film feels repetitive, and yes Star makes some mistakes, they all seem similar, but its all apart of it. We've all made mistakes, and sometimes it takes making that mistake more than once to finally learn from it. The film is magnificent in the way it feels like an experience, like we are there driving with the crew. Its amazing how the film highlights moments of ecstasy and moments of intensity in equal measure, making them feel like actual human moments. I think anybody can relate to how life moments can sometimes blend together, and there's something to the way Andrea Arnold portrays experience, time and memory in this movie. Its stiflingly piercing.

If Oscars were given to performances based on the power of the performance and not how much an actor and studio campaigns for said performance, then Sasha Lane and Shia LeBeouf would both be nominated for Lead Actor and Lead Actress this winter. Sasha Lane in particular is a discovery here, its so clear that you are looking at a person named Star and not some actor creating a character. She imprinted herself on this role, and I will forever think of this character when I see Lane in the future. And LeBeouf? Dear God, who woke him up? Its absolutely flabbergasting to me that the same guy in "American Honey" is the same guy who did "I, Robot," "Transformers" and "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle." LaBeouf disappears in this role and creates a new living organism entirely. This is a new career-high watermark for him and I beg you all to see this movie just to watch LaBeouf throw down here. Its the type of performance where every time he leaves a scene, you can't wait to see him again, which is the highest praise I can give any actor in any movie.

"American Honey" has left me speechless. I am drunk on an experience one can only get watching a movie. Even though there isn't much to this film story-wise, its made with such confidence, with such a burst of inspiration that it feels original. It feels like revolution moving at twenty-four frames a second. This is a piece of undeniable art. It's punched me right in the heart, and if you open yourself up to it, you'll be as heartbroken in the best way possible like me.


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