There is no doubting that Andrea Arnold has found a really good young cast and has elicited some great performances from her main actors, particularly Sasha Lane, Riley Keough and also Shia LaBeouf. Lane in particular is so good as the lost teenager who links up with a ‘mag-crew’ – a group of outcast teenagers who travel the country in almost a commune, making a few dollars by talking people into subscribing to magazines.
I’m guessing this is actually a thing – not only that paper magazines are still read, but that people still go door-to-door convincing others to buy them. And this is one of the interesting aspects – getting a glimpse into parts of the US that are rarely seen by most British cinema-goers. It’s a feeling of a whole different world from the cityscapes which frame much of mainstream US cinema.
The cinematography is beautiful – honey-gold light, vistas of burning oil pipes, rain trickling down a window – all gorgeously handled by Robbie Ryan, who has collaborated with Arnold several times in the past.
But despite all of the above, I found it over-long, difficult to connect with the characters, and lacking in sufficient narrative to substantiate its 163 minute run-time. There are only so many minivan sing-alongs I could take, and although we get a tiny glimpse at the characters of some of the crew, it’s not enough to make me invest in any of them enough to care. Some of the visual images were a little on the nose, and there were a couple of intimate scenes that I just found unnecessary, although well-portrayed. It also irked me a little that, given the choices that our protagonist Star makes, she was so lucky not to get into serious difficulties on more than one occasion. It almost gave the impression that, despite her naïveté (or perhaps it’s her lack of anything to lose) there is nothing to fear from strangers, they’re just good old folk doing their best. She almost seemed more at risk from the people she was running away with, which was contradictory.
So for me, not the masterpiece that others believe it to be – although I’d be really interested to hear from people who have more knowledge of this part of the Midwest, as it may have struck different chords with you.