For millennials, coming-of-age movies are tragedies

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

American Honey
Opens December 21

A fairly new phenomenon in American cinema is the portrayal of the impoverished regions of the country, the kind that voted for Trump not because ideology, but the vision of wealth he peddles (yes, a tacky golden apartment is someone’s idea of success). From Beasts of the Southern Wild to Hell or High Water, there seems to be an appetite for social cinema that wasn’t there five years ago.

American Honey falls in this category. It’s a character study (another anomaly) that flirts with misery porn, simultaneously hard and compassionate towards millennials. The much talked-about Generation Snowflake comes across as willful and honest to the point of cruelty, but lacks perspective and foresight due to parental negligence.

The film revolves around Star (impressive debut of Sasha Lane), a teen on the run from an abusive home. She joins a group of adolescents who roam across the southern states selling magazine subscriptions. While they maintain the illusion of free living, the collective is ruled with iron fist by Krystal (Riley Keough, The Girlfriend Experience) and the charismatic and predatory Jake (Shia LaBeouf). Star and Jake begin a clandestine relationship, placing the newcomer in an awkward and potentially dangerous situation.

If there is an obvious inspiration for American Honey, that would be “Oliver Twist”, albeit director Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank) pushes the envelope further and ties the proceedings to a feeling of hopelessness. Star’s aimlessness and steep learning curve only spell trouble for the future. Her environment is not sustainable, unless she’s willing to give up her sense of self, the only thing she has going for her.

American Honey is often cringe-worthy, never boring, but it’s hard to justify a 163-minute long feature with no apparent purpose (the conclusion is absurdly lyrical and non-committal). Regardless, as a snapshot of a moment in history, it’s perfectly serviceable.