Thursday, September 29, 2016

Youth and Optimism Through Female Gaze

American Honey (2016) - Arnold
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A modern day Wizard of Oz but Dorothy here is played with gusto by newcomer Sasha Lane. Her Star is a tough as a nail firecracker with a good head on her shoulders and a heart of gold. American Honey tell the rowdy group of traveling kids selling magazine subscriptions door to door. Only recognizable actors (I use the term loosely here) are Shia Labeouf and Riley Keough. But even they disappear into their respective roles as a slightly sexy older kid who show Star the ropes and young creepy, scary matriarch of the gang. The setting here is American south-midwest, but it isn't much different than Arnold's previous film Fish Tank, in terms of its theme- on the verge of womanhood, a girl from a poor family journeying through self-discovery. The hope Arnold portrays in those two films has less to do with its setting but with youth. This is what separates Arnold from other filmmakers. American Honey is being compared with Larry Clark's Kids. Yes there are plenty of graphic sex and violence. But whereas Clark's film unabashedly, proudly comes across as nothing but exploitation, Arnold's film shows real compassion toward its characters while not losing sight on the youthful passion. Arnold acknowledges physical, almost feral attractions that exist among people (even in adults in Red Road) but understands that she doesn't have to exploit it by showing boobies every other scene. For this reason, I think this film can be a great counterpart example to so-called 'male gaze' films by all these 'macho' directors.

Charging tirelessly through almost 3 hour running time, Arnold and co achieves something truly special here. It's a director's film through and through, not in any artificial David Fincher way. She even knows how to perfectly use actors like Labeouf who fits the role like a glove. She deserves every best director awards this year period.

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