This post was written for, and appears on, Bitch Flicks.
Andrea Arnold is a true auteur. With films as eclectic as Fish Tank and Wuthering Heights, her films are, whilst not necessarily linked in themed, entirely linked through style and aesthetic. American Honey, her first film shot outside of Britain, retains Arnold’s unique directorial style: a roving camera, naturalistic performances and an ability to completely highlight a character’s emotional state through visual choices.
Arnold has a history of selecting actors with very little, if any acting experience, casting Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank and James Howson in Wuthering Heights to clear success. She has taken a similar approach in casting Sasha Lane as Star in American Honey alongside Shia LaBeouf.
Lane plays Star, a young adult who has very little connection to her home. As a result, it is relatively easy for her to join Jake (LaBeouf) and his gaggle of teens who, under the strict command of Riley Keough’s Krystal, travel across America selling magazine subscriptions.
The trailer is wonderfully edited, featuring some gorgeous cinematography whilst always retaining Arnold’s naturalistic approach. Lane’s performance looks entirely engaging, and her acting style immediately creates both interest and empathy. LaBeouf too, looks like he has some real potential here. LaBeouf has, thanks to the tabloid press, found himself increasingly used for media fodder rather than any focus upon his acting career, yet, his film choices (Transformers aside) are increasingly interesting. Whilst initial reviews have only been moderately favourable I am hopeful that American Honey will be another fine addition to Arnold’s filmography.
Each adaptation of Wuthering Heights has, to date, been imperfect. Early adaptations, such as William Wyler’s 1939 adaptation, chose to exclude the second-half of the novel – in turn losing much of the emotional complexity Emily Brontë’s novel is so imbued with. Later adaptations, in adapting the novel in its entirety, often struggled with the multi-layered, complex narrative.
Coky Giedroyc’s 2009 adaptation, starring Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley as the central protagonists, is for me personally, the closest adaptation to capturing Brontë’s atmospheric text: more a story of hate, than of love, Giedroyc’s direction allows the violent nature of the text to take centre stage.
Despite this, even the 2009 adaptation is left undoubtedly lacking – weaker members of the cast lend themselves heavily towards melodrama, whilst the direction is arguably too loose at times, struggling to maintain its hold over the narrative. The decision by screenwriter Peter Bowker to disrupt the narrative structure simply complicates proceedings.
It is this lack of a truly good adaptation that has reinforced my excitement for Andrea Arnold’s adaptation. Arnold, a wonderfully talented director, has both referenced and recognised the importance of nature in the novel and her casting decisions could prove to be inspired. Kaya Scodelario (Cathy) and James Howson (Heathcliff) particularly seem well cast, their youth lending an urgency to proceedings.
The teaser footage hugely impresses, the use of a hand-held camera lends a real feeling of immediacy, its use is also highly refreshing, breaking down the more conventional, rather staid style of period dramas. Here nature is almost oppressive, with Arnold perfectly capturing the landscape so integral to both the novel and its characterisation. Needless to say, I have high hopes of Arnold’s film, truly hoping it may finally provide me with a perfect adaptation.