The opening minutes of The Leisure Seeker promise a more substantive experience than the comedy/drama ultimately delivers. As the camera winds its way around a peaceful New England town, the idyll is broken when a campaign pickup truck enters the scene. Garish, oversized flags mounted in the bed – one on each side – billow in the wind. They are advertising their candidate: TRUMP FOR AMERICA! Director Paolo Virzì then puts a title card up on the screen, setting his story on a specific day in September of 2016, just a few months before the election. Will The Leisure Seeker be some sort of political statement about how presidential politics affect everyday Americans, I wondered? Will the Trump/Clinton campaign merely exist at the edges of the story, never quite taking center stage, but adding poignant commentary to the main action? That second one is closer to the mark, sans the poignancy. Our characters only interact once with the election (I’ll get to that later), and the movie wastes every other reference to it.
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As improbable as it sounds, American Honey melds the sensibilities of disparate movies like Easy Rider and Lawrence of Arabia to craft a modern portrait of driftless youth. Director Andrea Arnold’s film is epic, funny, heartbreaking, and challenging. It captures the cynicism and hopelessness that characterizes the way many U.S. citizens view the American Dream. Through all the unfairness and terrible situations life throws at Star, Arnold’s main character, American Honey gives us a glimpse into the life of a survivor. Star refuses to be broken, and this quality allows for a hopeful ending to the movie that is both uplifting and defies easy explanation. In short, American Honey is a stunning achievement. It’s a movie that stirred my emotions and gave me a view into a world so different from my own that it might as well have been from an alien planet.