After tackling the robust delights of Wuthering Heights, director Andrea Arnold returns to the more grounded drama of her previous feature, Fish Tank, for a staggeringly ambitious, sprawling drama, even if its near-three-hour run-time does undeniably detract from its dramatic tightness.
Star (Sasha Lane) is a teenager desperate to escape a dire home situation, and so heads out on the road with new acquaintance Jake (Shia LaBeouf) and his co-workers, selling magazine subscriptions to anyone who will dare listen, while of course learning plenty about who they are and who they want to be.
With a 163-minute run-time and 4:3 shooting ratio, Arnold’s film won’t be for everyone, but at least she had the courtesy to be up-front about it and weed those people out from the get-go. It may sound like a challenging sit, but it’s a pleasure to report that, for the most part, that length flies by fairly briskly, thanks to engaging performances, an epic scope, on-point musical selections and a ton of visual diversity.
It might be tempting to lump this one in with the mumblecore set, but the “authenticity” here is extra convincing as Arnold actually hired locals to play many of the supporting cast members (namely other members of the magazine crew). It is an exceptionally lived-in film, one that lives and dies by the performances, carried out over frequently long takes and a clearly improvisational filmmaking style. Newcomer Sasha Lane is especially startling as the beguiling protagonist, helping to somewhat counter-balance Shia LaBeouf’s more over-the-top instincts, even if he also proves insanely watchable here.
Much like its characters, the movie never lingers in one place for too long, and the hit-rate of the various scenarios Star gets herself into is unexpectedly high, resulting in a disarmingly odd coming-of-age drama with a deceptive amount of emotional resonance.
Sure, it might feel a little more robust with 20 or 30 minutes cut from the sides, but given the immense risk Arnold took releasing this film in the state she did, it’s all the more commendable that she stuck to her guns and it mostly paid off.
American Honey premiered at the London Film Festival, is in US cinemas now and in UK cinemas October 14th