AMERICAN HONEY. In this case it's difficult to separate my staid and cynical self from the open, curious one. The former looks at this movie as a bigger, louder take on the same themes as Kids (1995): a decades-older artist's peek through the keyhole of disenfranchised youth culture, designed to freak out the squares. But the latter sees the almost-accidental beauty in American Honey, can appreciate the freshness of its perspective and its aggressive vitality. It is a formidable, challenging artwork that frustrates and satisfies in almost equal measure; it appears to accomplish exactly what it sets out to, which may or may not mean it is an artistic success.
In the squalid swelter of Oklahoma, 18-year-old Star (Sasha Lane) Dumpster-dives and looks after the young children of some shiftless dude with whom she is entangled. But then she encounters Jake (Shia LaBeouf) in a K-Mart parking lot, along with his raggedy crew of young men and women, and her curiosity is piqued. She accepts Jake's invitation to accompany them to Kansas City, first spiriting the children to their recalcitrant mother in a noisy roadhouse and fleeing the scene. By morning, Star is part of the crew: an itinerant mob of young people bouncing around the mid-West in a van, selling magazines door to door. Ultimately, they all, even Jake, work for Krystal (Riley Keough), a sloe-eyed sadist who holds them in her sway. Jake takes Star under his wing, introducing her to his sales method: a combination of shabby charm, outright mendacity and petty theft. She, smitten but disapproving of the dishonesty, headstrong, frustrating — 18 — sticks around to be near him, befriending but keeping the rest at arm's length. And so things continue: long days in the van getting high and drunk, nights in roadside residence motels, weak sales pitches to reluctant suburbanites. Star punctuates the routine with some forays of questionable wisdom, and her relationship with Jake stays at a fairly consistent level of crazy.
There is a plot, or at least the skeleton of one, behind American Honey, but writer-director Andrea Arnold focuses more on atmosphere. To her credit, she creates and sustains a palpable one. The life these people are living is vibrant and authentic, full-blooded and terrible. But she insists that we join in on that life for almost three hours, and at some point that becomes a strain. While the pace and feeling of the movie can be gentle, almost lyrical, with long cutaways and asides designed to add to the feeling of American summer, they can also be the source of mounting frustration. Arnold insists on extensive use of a hand-held camera, which increases the intimacy and immediacy of the movie, but also creates a faux-documentary aesthetic that eventually undermines the integrity of the story. The frequent gorgeous shots are imbued with a just-happened-to-be-there quality that diminishes their impact. Showing us a beautiful thing, unadorned, without composition is fine but it is a snapshot, not cinema.
I find myself more troubled, though, by the feeling that Arnold — who is British — examines this uniquely American subculture from some elevation, like some pith-helmeted explorer pushing in to the Dark Continent. As well as the created atmosphere of the movie works, there are hard to define moments within it that suggest a morbid editorial curiosity; a critical distance disguised as intimacy. And it's hard not to feel manipulated when the languid, inebriated tone of the piece is ruptured (not infrequently) by dread and menace. American Honey is an impressive, immersive movie. It is beautifully acted, challenging and beautiful. But there is something disingenuous, a posturing inherent in the discrepancy between its tone and its execution that I find off-putting. R. 163m. BROADWAY.
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES. Zach Galifianakis (once a brilliant comedian, now perhaps our most unlikely movie star) and Isla Fisher star as Jeff and Karen Gaffney, suburban parents caught up in the pleasant doldrums of regular life. Jeff works in human resources at a major tech company. Karen is an interior designer. Everything is ... fine. After they send the kids away to camp, impossibly accomplished, sexy new neighbors move on to the cul de sac. Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot, so, yeah), a travel writer and food blogger cum philanthropist, respectively, seem perfect but Karen has questions.
Of course they aren't quite what they seem; we wouldn't have much of a movie otherwise. Tim and Natalie draw the Gaffneys into the world of international espionage. There are some solid pratfalls along the way and the two couples work well as foils. Ultimately, though, the movie falls a little flat. It is reminiscent of the some of the great comedy hybrids of the 1980s, but is too polished, too stylistically nondescript to be more than a slightly sad reminder. PG13. 101m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
THE DRESSMAKER. A woman with style, a past and some grudges (Kate Winslet) returns to her backwater home in Australia with transformative couture skills. With Liam Hemsworth and Judy Davis. R. 119m. MINOR.
GHOSTBUSTERS (1984). Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson cross the streams in the original. PG13. 101m. MINOR.
HALLOWEEN. Donald Pleasence and Jami Lee Curtis star in the 1978 screamer that launched a thousand rubber masks. R. 91m. BROADWAY.
INFERNO. Tom Hanks returns in the DaVinci Code sequel, this time with amnesia and clues about a killer virus. With Felicity Jones. R. 163m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974). The original slasher with cannibals vs. teens. Totally different now that it's a swing state. R. 83m. MINOR.
THE ACCOUNTANT. Ben Affleck stars as a bookkeeping savant pursued by good and bad guys. It's popcorn fare, but executed with care and precision for a dark, stylish, compelling and even funny movie. R. 128m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK, THE TOURING YEARS. Found footage and interviews covering 1963 to 1966. NR. 137m. MINOR.
BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN. Tyler Perry is back in the wig and glasses as Madea, chaperoning teens and spoofing horror movies. PG13. 103m. BROADWAY.
DEEPWATER HORIZON. Peter Berg's taut oil rig disaster drama keeps a tight focus on the struggle of its real-life characters in a few crucial hours. PG13. 107m. BROADWAY.
DENIAL. Rachel Weisz plays historian Deborah Lipstadt in her legal battle against Holocaust denier David Irving, who sued her for libel in 1996, forcing her to prove the WWII atrocities actually occured. PG13. 103m. MINOR.
DON'T BREATHE. Director Fede Alvarez's atmospheric heist-gone-wrong horror movie about teens trapped in a murderous blind man's home boasts a solid story and earned scares. R. 88m. MINOR.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. The thriller relies on the twist and leaves plot fragments hanging, but its departure from standard detective narrative is refreshing and Emily Blunt's performance carries the suspense. R. 112m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
HELL OR HIGH WATER. A pair of bank-robbing brothers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster) are pursued by a pair of Texas Rangers (Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham) in a fine, character-driven film about what poverty does to people. R. 102m. MINOR.
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK. Tom Cruise clenches his jaw again as the hero from Lee Childs' series, this time in defense of an old colleague (Cobie Smulders) accused of treason. PG13. 118m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
KEVIN HART: WHAT NOW? The comedian performs stand-up in a Philadelphia arena. R. 96m. BROADWAY.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Fine performances in this enjoyable remake with strong action sequences, but it lags in places and breaks no new ground for the genre. PG13. 133m. BROADWAY.
MAX STEEL. Mattel toy-based disaster of a movie about a teen who discovers he has super powers and a robo-buddy. Ben Winchell, Maria Bello and Andy Garcia star. PG13. 92m. BROADWAY.
MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE. The new kid in school (Griffin Gluck) sets out to break each of its suffocating rules of conduct. R. 112m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN. Eva Green stars as headmistress in Tim Burton's adaptation of the book about children with magical powers. PG13. 127m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL. Do you want evil spirits? Because this is how we get evil spirits. A phony séance gone wrong leads to a possessed teen. PG13. 99m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
STORKS. A retail delivery bird winds up in the baby business trying to get an infant to a family. Or you could just have the talk with your kids. Voices of Jennifer Anniston and Kelsey Grammer. PG. 87m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill