Not as bad as “Birdman”, but only by a couple of whiskers.
Once again there seems to be a ‘disconnect’ between the professional critics, and we the people who go to movies to be entertained.
There is TV program on BBC in the UK called FILM 2016, which as you might imagine, reviews the latest film releases. When the resident critic was asked for his choice of film of the year, he had no hesitation in saying “American Honey” What greater recommendation could there possibly be?
Just to be sure, I checked out the critics’ reviews in the Guardian, Telegraph, and other august literary reviews and found that to a man, (or woman), they all gave this movie 5 stars out of 5 and they were all ecstatic with praise.
So what better movie to snuggle down to over Christmas?
It started with great promise. A young lady (Star) and two kids are rummaging around in a large trash container for food. This is, followed by a crazy scene where she meets a gang of iterant magazine sellers in a nearby food mart, buying food and dancing their way around the aisles to hip-hop music. The apparent head of this oddball collection of misfits, (Jake), offers Star a job.
“Be at the Motel Six at 7 tomorrow morning”, he tells her.
Star goes back to her trailer trash home, gets mauled by some thoroughly unpleasant drunken oaf and then takes the kids – who we all thought were hers – to their mother who is line dancing at a nearby outdoor bar. She leaves them with her mother and sets off to Motel Six to seek her fate.
So far so good – looks like we will have an interesting ride.
Unfortunately, from this moment on the film goes downhill. Star joins a bunch of crazy youths who are traveling across the USA in a mini-van – stopping off every day in a new town to sell magazines.
Apart from the fact that in this day of the internet, virtually nobody buys magazines anymore, these kids go cold calling, house to house, and make up any kind of weird or sob story to persuade the householders to part with magazine subscriptions.
Every evening they meet up and hand over their day’s sales to their boss, (Crystal) a hard-nosed woman who takes 80% to pay for their motels and food and, of course, for her cut. The kids all share rooms, but Crystal has her own, and she amuses herself by having sex with the most handsome men on the team.
The two lowest sellers of the day are made to have a drunken fight with each other.
Star is teamed with Jake – their ‘star’ seller and they develop a love /hate relationship as she refuses to go along with Jake’s lies to his customers, while at the same time she falls madly in love with him. Jake seems to reciprocate her feelings, but we are never quite sure, as he also ‘services’ his boss, Crystal.
In between selling, the gang travel from one town to another, playing hip-hop music in the van, singing, drinking, smoking pot and taking drugs and generally having a thoroughly hedonistic time of it.
They have no meaningful conversations; they have no ambitions, no plans for the future, no morals or ethics. They lie and sometimes steal from their customers and basically don’t care about anything other than having a good time with each other.
Star has vague dreams of owning her own trailer home and settling down with Jake, but even this plan seems somehow insincere and unattainable.
That’s it – that’s the film. It rambles on for almost three hours, and you know less about these people at the end of the film than you did at the beginning. I confess that I am not a hip-hop fan, but even if I was, I doubt that I would have enjoyed the film anymore.
We are treated to three hours of nothing – just a crazy bunch of kids having a good time traveling across America, fighting each other, getting drunk and stoned and singing along to hip-hop.
Okay, there are maybe two or three short scenes worth watching, such the one when Star goes off with a bunch of middle-aged Texans to their ranch and earns 400 bucks by drinking a bottle of liquor straight, including a worm in the bottom of the bottle.
But for the main part, nothing really happens and after two hours you realize you have been conned – much like the poor mutts in the film were when they bought magazine subscriptions.
There are plot holes galore, but I won’t go into those, except to say it seems inconceivable that their dubious selling practices and thefts would go completely unnoticed by the law. They even steal an upmarket convertible, but we don’t see a single cop in the entire movie.
On the plus side – just like that other piece of nonsense, “Birdman” – the acting by the entire ensemble cast, particularly Sasha Lane as Star, Shia La Beouf as Jake and Riley Keough as Crystal is superb. There isn’t a single dud – they are all utterly believable in their roles. The cinematography is outstanding, as is the direction.
But to what end? The director could easily have cut an hour from the running time without losing anything, and if she had been a bit more focused with the script, and given us a halfway decent plot to retain our interest, it could have been so much better. But she didn’t and it wasn’t.
My guess is that most of the dialogue was improvised, and they probably made it up as they went along. It works with a Mike Leigh film as the cast spend weeks developing the plot before shooting starts, but it does not work here.
I give it two Mobi-stars out of five because there were a few goods bits, in between all the boring nonsense.
Read my review of Birdman on IMDb here: Birdman