Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard-earned dollar.
The featured $0.99 flick this week is a tender-hearted drama by the name of Wonder. It stars Julia Robert, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay (from 2015’s marvelous Room). Wonder looks to have a ton of heart, a genuinely positive message, and a lot of scenes that are almost certain to leave you wiping a tear or two or twenty from your eyes. If you’re in the mood for a good tear-jerker, look no further. If you’re on the hunt for something a little more visceral, you’ll want to duck into the “Movies You Might Have Missed” section of iTunes, ’cause that’s where you’ll find one of 2017’s most overlooked films. So …
This week, Andrea Arnold hits the road with a roaming pack of “mag crew” kids in American Honey.
Got Anybody Who’s Gonna Miss You?
Deep in the sweltering American South, teenager Star (Sasha Lane) is scraping by in utter poverty, dumpster diving to feed the inhabitants of her deeply dysfunctional household. When she meets the charismatic leader of a traveling, magazine sales crew (Shia LaBeouf), Star jumps at the chance to start a new life for herself. One as full of romance, adventure, and self discovery as it is danger, heartache, and hard-learned lessons. So begins Andrea Arnold’s passionately observed teen odyssey, American Honey.
I Feel Like I’m Fucking America
Yes, you just read the name Shia LaBeouf, and that name likely inspired some very specific feelings about the potential quality of American Honey. That’s understandable. Over the past few years, LaBeouf’s offscreen antics have sort of made it hard to root for projects he’s involved in. It’s worth remembering that over the same period, and really for most of his career, save for Transformers debacles and that almost unwatchable Indiana Jones film, LaBeouf’s onscreen work has generally ranged from pretty damn solid (Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 & 2) to quite fantastic (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints). So if you’re worried about LaBeouf’s presence in American Honey, you should know that the actor’s turn as the charmingly roguish Jake ranks among his best work.
If you’re still worried about LaBeouf’s presence, you should know that he’s not the star of the film either. Rather, American Honey is centered around a ponderous young woman by the name of Star. She’s played by newcomer Sasha Lane who’d never appeared in a movie before, and was cast as the star of American Honey after Andrea Arnold discovered her on a beach in Panama City. Lane repays that risky bit of casting by delivering a fervidly muted, star-making performance full of cocksure swagger and wide-eyed naiveté. Lane’s American Honey performance more than proves she’s an up-and-comer worth watching, and that her presence opposite David Harbour in the upcoming Hellboy reboot is all the more reason to get excited about that film.
With any luck, American Honey will help make a star of Andrea Arnold as well. The film marks the director’s fourth feature behind marvelous flicks like Red Road, Fish Tank, and Wuthering Heights. While American Honey proves to be Arnold’s most simplistic narrative to date – there’s not really a plot to the film more than there is a wistfully meandering vibe – it also proves to be her most ambitious work to date. One that Arnold builds around startlingly naturalistic photography, largely improvised dialogue, mostly non-professional actors, and a thumping soundtrack packed with modern hip-hop hits and impassioned anthems of youthful longing.
From that mix, Arnold weaves an elegiac anthem of her own about a lost generation awash in the vast wasteland that is the new American dream. Along the desolate, dusty road that is American Honey, she somehow finds a way to keep dreaming. That Arnold does so with unbridled passion rather than anger is what makes the film such a vital document of the times … even if she can never be sure what lay on the road ahead.
Here’s the thing, American Honey is a robust 2 hours and 43 minutes long, and it sort of feels like it’s about 43 minutes longer than it needs to be. That being said, to cut a single frame from Arnold’s sweeping collage of a film would likely undercut its immersive effect. If you’ve got close to three hours to burn on a movie this week, American Honey is the fire you’re looking for. If not, well, I’d encourage you to make time anyway, ’cause it’s an extraordinary, “warts and all” exploration of a new American frontier that too few are even aware exists.