Film Reviews

AMERICAN HONEY

By • Oct 12th, 2016 •

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Entrancing, evocative and a brilliant management of chaos. Sasha Lane is sensational.  LaBeouf and Keough are mesmerizing.

Do you have any idea how hard and expensive it is to start an acting career and how difficult it is the get an agent even after taking acting classes? Did you read The Hollywood Reporter’s expose on pay-to-play TV acting auditions? Major casting directors – currently in a hiring position on network, cable and streaming shows – are or were holding auditioning technique “workshops” for actors seeking roles on shows they cast.

It all started with Lana Turner at the soda counter at Schwab’s and the myth of being discovered without an agent, any acting experience or even a head shot.
So 15-year-old  Rosario Dawson was just sitting on a stoop when filmmaker Larry Clark and screenwriter Harmony Korine asked if she wanted to be in movies.

Natalie Portman’s discovery story begins with her at a pizza parlor. Even though Portman is 5’3” tall, a man approaches her and asks if she wants to be a model. Wisely, Portman, knowing the height requirements for models, said she’d rather be an actress.

Imagine you are spotted horsing around with your friends on a beach and asked to audition for the starring role in a movie with Shia LaBeouf.

It happened to AMERICAN HONEY’S Sasha Lane. She never took an acting class in her life and does not intend to.

Sasha Lane now has an agent, I assume “management” and has signed on for two more films.
Director, writer and Oscar winner Andrea Arnold saw Lane on a beach during a Florida spring break. Arnold spied on Lane for a few days before asking her to audition for the starring role in her first U.S. feature.

Arnold is either a brilliant director of non-actors or she can intuit an unknown great talent. Lane is so expressive that all Arnold has to do is set up the scene and then film Lane’s facial reactions. Lane does not communicate with words. All her emotions are on her face. She doesn’t wear a mask…yet.
Star (Lane) is living with her inappropriate father and caring for her mother’s two young children. She takes her half-siblings on her “dumpster diving” food collection forays and is propositioned by a savvy, playful guy, Jake (Shia LaBeouf), to join his caravan of kids running around the country. It looks like the perfect, carefree vacation for an 18-year-old with no money, no job and taking care of two small children. Then there is the slow-dancing with Dad. She does have two t-shirts. So Star dumps the kids with her none-too-pleased bar dancing mother and meets up with Jake and his group the next morning.

The band of runaways and misfits go into towns all around the country selling magazine subscriptions. Each team of two has a different made-up story. Each new member is trained by Jake, who is the top earner. He is the “boyfriend” of the crew’s founder/enforcer Krystal (Riley Keough). Now Krystal knows how to instill intimidation in the young female recruits. She is sexier, more trashy, more provocative, nasty and far more overtly entitled than any of them. She travels by convertible driven by Jake.

Eyes-wide-open Star is mesmerized by Jake and Krystal sizes her up quickly. For the time being, her star “earner”, Jake, is her personal property and man-slave. Krystal kept reminding me of Tony Soprano and his mantra regarding “top earners.”

Since all the guys and girls are free-styling on sex, smoking pot, drinking and displaying casual nudity, for Star everything is groovy. Selling magazines is an afterthought to hanging out and singing songs in the van.

Krystal reads Star the riot act since her complete distain in selling magazines is hurting Jake’s numbers. And the two lowest “earners” have to fight it out at the end of every week, Thunderdrome-style.

The relationship between Jake and Star drives the film. Threatened with being left on the side of a deserted road for lack of sales, Star goes through two highly dangerous escapades. In one, Star drinks enough alcohol to incapacitate Bart the Bear.<

Unfortunately, what happens with her getaway ride is completely unrealistic and ruins using the word “authentic” to label AMERICAN HONEY.<

Director Arnold can easily handle what – by necessity – is chaos. The actors and non-actors among the group are all invested and completely comfortable with each other. Whether the actors and actresses were given dialogue or just set free, Arnold captured the anarchy and hedonistic pleasure of having no attachments, stuff, or society’s pressing responsibilities.

Of course, the good-looking surfer, Corey (McCaul Lombardi), who constantly takes his penis out, is the one you keep looking for in the “merry prankser” van.

I’m quite fond of everything LaBeouf has done after going “rogue.” Especially his work in NYMPHOMANIAC: Vol. I and Vol. II, his Sia videos, his “I’m Not Famous Anymore” paper bag appearance and his public performances.

Last month La Beouf continued his condemnation of Steven Spielberg in a cover story in Variety.

“I grew up with this idea, if you got to Spielberg, that’s where it is,” LaBeouf tells the magazine. “You get there, and you realize you’re not meeting the Spielberg you dream of,” LaBeouf says. “You’re meeting a different Spielberg, who is in a different stage in his career. He’s less a director than he is a f–king company.”

LeBeouf went on to slam the director for what he described as disregard for artistic integrity, saying his experiences on Spielberg’s sets felt mechanical and contrived.
“Spielberg’s sets are very different,” LaBeouf went on to say. “Everything has been so meticulously planned. You got to get this line out in 37 seconds. You do that for five years, you start to feel like not knowing what you’re doing for a living. I don’t like the movies I made with Spielberg.”
LaBeouf continues to throw shade on Spielberg? This will eventually be a new kind of new Hell for him. You would think he would be already languishing in Hollywood jail.

LaBeouf’s work in AMERICAN HONEY is loosey-goosey and he’s all charm with his rat-tail hairdo and shows a lot of chemistry with Lane. Lane, up until this filming must have never met a movie star, looks dazzled by him.

Arnold has the uncanny ability to show the sexual passions of teenagers. Her 2009 feature, FISH TANK, is about a 15-year-old girl seduced by her mother’s new boyfriend – the sensational provocateur Michael Fassbender.

AMERICAN HONEY is the first film in a long time that I said when leaving the screening, “I must have the soundtrack.”

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com.

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