Coming-of-age tales can become repetitive after a while, unless someone can find a way to breathe new life into it. I think Andrea Arnold has done that here, although it didn’t all come together, for me personally. There are parts of it that work very, very well, and some things that I got hung up on and just couldn’t seem to get past.
The good: The cinematography is gorgeous. It’s a road trip movie, populated by lots of landscapes that are as much of a treat to look at for the viewer as you feel they must be for the reckless youth in the van. Some of the dusk/night scenes are especially beautiful. The two lead performances, Shia LaBeouf as Jake and Sasha Lane as Star, are bursting with a chemistry that, while sometimes a bit off, is palpable. He woos her into the traveling group as easily as he woos us into the story, and she’s right there with him in her own, more reserved way.
The bad: I couldn’t get over the premise of a traveling group of teenage magazine salespeople riding around all day every day getting wasted and hunting down that almighty dollar. They are filthy, foul-mouthed and usually drunk. How can they possibly be making good money doing this? For that matter, who the hell buys magazine subscriptions anymore? Jake is the only believable salesman in the group (which is probably why he’s the only one shown selling anything), and from that standpoint I was a bit sucked out of the overall experience. Not to mention the running time. I don’t mind a long film, this one just meanders a lot (and yes, the group does the same so I can see the narrative connection), coming off as something that was badly in need of an edit or two.
Coming off like the sister of The Florida Project at times, it shows an uglier side of America, contrasted against the beauty of reckless youth and young love. There are a lot of admirable qualities to this film, it just left me feeling a bit empty. Certain messages that Arnold seems to be conveying get bogged down after a while, and while the overall theme that I took away (that love and staying true to yourself are more valuable than money) resonated in the final scene, it just took too long to get there. In the end, I liked more than I disliked, but I hoped for something a bit different.