I just don't get it.
I honestly cannot remember the last time I was this baffled over the Grand-Canyon-sized gap between a movie's rave reviews and my own experience viewing it. Granted, the on-the-road scenery was pretty to look at, but everything else was so laughably bad. Not one character, event, or line of dialogue rang true, and there were points where I actually felt insulted by being expected to believe what was happening on screen. Here are my major complaints:
- Say what you will about Shia LaBeouf - at least he demonstrates an ability to convey different emotions through facial expressions and vocal inflections. That's kind of an important quality for an actor. Unfortunately Sasha Lane didn't get that memo. The movie was nearly three hours long, and I can count on one hand the number of times her facial expression changed. Casting a block of wood as Star would have been a more economical choice, with virtually identical results.
- Here's how the adventure begins: Star is walking along the street, she sees a guy pressing his buttcheeks against the window of a passing van, and BOOM, she's instantly drawn into following them. That's supposed to be a believable precipitating incident? She's entranced by buttcheeks in a moving car?
- The character Crystal actually says the film's title on screen within the first 15 minutes. The only way it could have been more on-the-nose is if she looked directly into the camera and winked.
- Would it have KILLED Andrea Arnold to do some research on what it's actually like to work a door-to-door job? As someone who's worked as a canvasser, I can unequivocally say that not one magazine-selling interaction in this movie was remotely believable. According to this movie, people just LOVE when strange youngsters interrupt their day to show up on their property (dressed like total slobs in this case), selling them things they don't want and didn't ask for... especially rich people! They'll always invite you right in, and never assume you're about to rob them or case their home for a burglary! They're fine with you copping an attitude and talking back to them when you're inside their home!They'd love it if you appear out of nowhere and start following them up their driveway! They'd be totally cool with you playing around with their outdoor decor right in front of their faces! Most of all, they'd certainly never call the cops on you, not even if you're smoking weed or brandishing a deadly weapon on the sidewalk in broad daylight! Yep.
- I'll just give one specific example of one of the many non-reality-based scenes in the movie: So, Star is picked up by a car full of older cowboy types and brought to their house for a barbecue. Total strangers pick up some random girl they've never met, and just bring her right into their home to hang out (with no obvious ulterior motive). This was completely ridiculous, but as soon as Jake shows up with his gun to steal the car, it was catapulted to outright absurd. I mean, come on... a group of older caucasian gentlemen in middle America who are all wearing matching white cowboy hats - these are the kinds of dudes who probably keep a gun next to the toilet "just in case." In what alternate universe would they have NOT been packing heat, and NOT have shot Jake dead in a nanosecond? There were probably 100 more believable ways that this scene could have played out, but the one that actually happens just left me shaking my head.
- There were multiple parts where we could have seen the character depth/development that was so sorely lacking from this movie, but it was just one missed opportunity after another. Take the scene where Jake shows Star all the jewelry he's been "collecting" (i.e. stealing) over the years. This could have very easily been a catalyst for an argument between the characters about morals, or economic inequality, or the American value of "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps," which would have been a perfect way to actually build the characters and make them seem like real people. Instead, there was nothing. It's difficult to feel invested in bland, unsympathetic characters in a movie that doesn't give you one good reason to care about them.
- I was waiting for the whole "Star getting into cars with strange men" motif to take a scary turn, which would have been super predictable but at least interesting. It never did. Not once. This isn't just unrealistic - it makes for an unbelievably boring movie. Again, so much potential for character development/conflict/new lessons learned, but every opportunity was completely wasted.
- While we're on the car thing: Okay, Star is constantly jumping into vehicles with strangers, including an actual trucker who says he's running late... and then once the particular scene is over, she's magically back with her group of sales associates all hunky dory. HOW DID SHE KEEP GETTING BACK TO THE GROUP???
What exactly was the point of this movie? What conflicts were resolved? What did the characters learn? How did they change or grow? To reiterate my original point, I just. Do. Not. Get it.
If you disliked this movie as much as I did, check out Tina Hassannia's review of it in Canada's National Post. You'll feel less alone.