It can be pretty intimidating when a feature film is released with a run time that nears the three hour mark. Back in the day, films like Ben-Hur or Gone With the Wind were much more constant and that length was expected for some films. American Honey may not have needed to be quite this long, and I am here to express my feelings on why that is. This is a solid film overall, but could have been fantastic if it kept its run time around the two hour mark. When a film like King Kong (which is arguable) uses its time wisely, setting up characters and slowly building to a big reveal, that is a three hour run time used right. American Honey utilizes the tactic, while not quite having much of an impact in its final act. Here are my thoughts on this overlong, yet uniquely made film.
The Engaging, Yet Flawed Premise
I am not saying this only because Shia LaBeouf is one of the leads here, but when I watched this trailer, I was hoping for a vibe like A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. That is a very polarizing film that I happened to find extremely powerful. Sadly, there are many elements explored this film that are not paid off, which is frustrating when that is not able to happen in a near three hour film. Following Star as she transforms as a character, she abandons her boyfriend and kids, joins a group of homeless drug addicts and drunks who sell magazine subscriptions for life, and develops relationships with the wrong people, making the wrong life choices along the way. Her transformation is what makes this film not seem quite as long as it is, but there is not enough closure for her character by the time the credits roll.
Shia LaBeouf has not been see for a while, due to his actions in real life, but that doesn't seem to be stopping him from making a slow comeback. There is no way he took this job just for a paycheque, because he immerses himself in this role, becoming this character from start to finish. Having said that, actress Sasha Lane is what truly makes the remarkable scenes throughout this film as great as they are. Her portrayal of Star and her interaction with each and every character feels so well-realized. In the end, her character is what kept me sucked into this story from beginning to end. It is a hard movie to sit through at times and it's definitely for a very mature audience, but I do recommend it for her performance alone.
The Bizarre Aspect Ratio
While I am sure writer/director Andrea Arnold had a very good reason for having the old 4:3 Pan and Scan aspect ratio throughout the entire duration of the film, it will make average moviegoers wonder if they have an improper version of the film. To my knowledge, the last film to do this was Best Picture Oscar-Winner The Artist back in 2012. That film had a very clear vision and reason why that aspect ratio had been utilized. Aside from having a classic film feel, I went through this entire film, not really understanding why this was used. I am sure if I took the time to research it there will be a reason, but I feel as though things should be a little more apparent when watching a film. That being said, I found it very unique nonetheless and I can do nothing but applaud her guts for that choice.
My Overall Thoughts
In the end, I enjoyed this film quite a bit, but I am struggling to recommend this film to anyone if I am being completely honest. Hardcore film lovers may get a kick out of certain styles used like I did or become immersed in this character's transformation, but I can see average moviegoers falling asleep to a film like this, especially for its lengthy run time. Overall, this is a very well-directed film and I hope Andrea Arnold continues to make quality like this in the future, but American Honey is for a very specific audience. I can only see 1 in 10 people really enjoying this film as far as the average moviegoer goes, but if you like quality films no matter what their content is, I am sure you will find things to like here. American Honey does not need to be three hours long, but it is a solid film nevertheless.