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“American Honey” is an endurance test that’s worth embarking on

American Honey
Long movies tend to have an uphill battle with me. Every so often though, it just helps me a special film feel even more so. In the case of American Honey, it simply elevates a great work of art by letting it linger in your mind, though admittedly an almost three hour running time will be a challenge for some. Filmmaker Andrea Arnold is a very singular filmmaker, so anything she decides to do is worth taking note of. This flick though is something new entirely. Her take on America and the heartland is just magic. This is one of my favorite films of the year so far. It’s the best thing hitting theaters this week and an absolute must see. Nothing else in 2016 is anything like it.

The movie is a bit hard to describe. Essentially, it’s a character study/road trip flick through the Midwest. Star (Sasha Lane) is a teenage girl living a hard life. When a ragtag group of traveling magazine salespeople swing by her town, she’s taken by one in particular, the leader Jake (Shia LaBeouf). He almost jokingly offers for her to join up, and lo and behold, she accepts. Manager Krystal (Riley Keough) isn’t wild about the arrangement, but lets her come aboard. She’s mostly interested in Jake, but that’s a complicated situation. As such, Star spends time getting to know the crew and just experiencing life in a whole new way. Thus begins an adventure that may be slightly low on plot, but is high on ideas and feelings. Arnold writes and directs, with the supporting players including Arielle Holmes, McCaul Lombardi, Will Patton, and many more. Robbie Ryan handles the cinematography, which is downright hypnotic.

It all works, but what stands out most is the way it feels. That is perfectly summarized by a moment in which Star is with a long haul trucker, listening to Bruce Springsteen. The song is Dream Baby Dream and it must be seen to be fully understood. Lane is amazing in the role, while LaBeouf does the best work he’s done in a very long time. The always interesting Keough is solid too, making for a strong ensemble. Arnold came up with something very original here and she executes it with aplomb. It won’t be for everyone, but those who get on its wavelength will likely love it.

Awards wise, the more independent precursors might take to it, but that’s likely it. Still, if it somehow becomes a crossover hit, perhaps the Academy will take notice. If so, there might be an Oscar campaign launched. Regardless of where, I’m sure consideration will be put forward in Best Picture, Best Director (for Arnold), Best Actress (for Lane), Best Supporting Actor (for LaBeouf), Best Supporting Actress (for Keough), Best Original Screenplay (for Arnold as well), Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. The Independent Spirit Awards might be its only hope, but hey, anything is possible, right? Time will tell in this regard, but in all honesty no one should really get their hopes up.

In the end, American Honey is not only the best bet this weekend, but one of the best films of the year so far. It’s very hard to do this one justice, so just take it from me that this is something special. Especially if you’re a fan of Arnold’s, I can’t imagine this not compelling you in some way. If nothing else, it’s 100% a conversation starter. Few movies this year have been as compelling and hypnotic as this one. This is very much a poetic film, so true cinephiles must make this a priority. Give it a chance and thank me later…

Be sure to check out American Honey, in theaters starting in limited release today!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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