“I haven’t been to Facets in years” said a patron during my 6:30pm Saturday showing of Andrea Arnold’s American Honey (Essential). Despite screening in Facets’ smaller theater, the showing was heavily attended, likely due to the film’s relatively poor release strategy in the Chicagoland area (it screened against the films of the Chicago International Film Festival and disappeared alongside the festival). So in a much-appreciated coup, Charles Coleman and his programming team have brought back the film for a brief run. We’re all going to champion films released this year, this season, as being timely and vital to the current political climate. Whereas some will cherish Arrival and Moonlight as speaking to the humanism needed to forge on for the next four (eight?) years, I’ll take American Honey as the one to outlast them all; an eerily predictive yet resolutely sincere depiction of lost youth careening through the American heartland, a land marked by one’s utilities to persevere through all its malnourishment and despondency.
American Honey centers on Star (newcomer Sasha Lane) as she joins a cadre of disaffected adolescents as they scour the Midwest in their large white van, fecklessly hoping to turn a dime on door-to-door magazine subscriptions. It’s not ideal, but given Star’s situation (forced to dumpster dive while caring for her younger sister and brother, all while being abused by her boyfriend) the alternative to complacency seems a little less bleak (a statement that merits further consideration given the events of the past month). Under the guidance of Jake (Shia LeBeouf), she learns the ropes of the trade, with Arnold fixating on the profound contrast (and similarities) that distinguishes the kids in the van with the homes they infiltrate.
The cognition of my worldview saw a genuine shift during the film’s bountiful runtime, dissolving through the rapid deployment of Arnold’s ephemeral detail. American Honey is loaded with specifics, where the fleeting gestures culminate into a massive tapestry of Americana. It’s a contemporary canonical work, one that realizes its pop mantra of “finding love in a hopeless place”.
But for those looking for something a little less heady yet nevertheless affecting, look no further than to one of the best “wide” releases of the year, Kelly Fremon Craig’s beguiling feature debut, The Edge of Seventeen (Recommended).
What’s so disarming about The Edge of Seventeen is how its superficiality lends itself to some particularly authentic moments. It’ll take a while to jibe with the material, as Craig fixates on Nadine’s (Hailee Steinfeld) capacity for histrionics. She contends with her self-alienation throughout much of her childhood until she befriends the similar-minded Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). There are some particularly rough passages in this introduction, marred by moments that possess a saccharine sensitivity that may test certain viewers. But as Nadine and Krista split, with their friendship threatened by Nadine’s brother Darian (Blake Jenner), Craig and Steinfeld develop Nadine’s character beyond her eccentricities into some whole and lived in.
There’s a distinct difference between the likes of female-centric teen comedies like The DUFF or The To-Do List and something like Ghost World and The Diary of a Teenage Girl. The Edge of Seventeen thankfully has more in common with the latter. What it may lack in formal sophistication it makes up for through the circumstances surrounding its grounded yet flawed center character. Steinfeld imbues Nadine as a wounded but self-reliant figure that endures the hurdles of adolescence like most of us would: with great anxiety and perpetual fear of failure. There’s not a more touching sequence I’ll see all year than seeing a circle of friends close themselves off from Nadine, with a young woman trying to navigate a constellation of people who seem to have found their place.