Posted October 14, 2016 by Daniel Hodgson in
Director Andrea Arnold has created a portrait of America and American youth, something like Kids (1995), but it has something essential missing from that film.
We first see Star in a dumpster. She scrounges for food for herself and two children. They are not her own, but she looks after them out of the kindness of her heart.
A coming-of-age story, American Honey is about the American Dream. When Star (Sasha Lane), a pretty girl of eighteen, happens to meet Jake (Shia LaBeouf) in a grocery store, she’s offered the chance to escape her impoverished town and join a “mag crew.” Crammed into a big white van with a dozen other struggling teens, Star goes on a journey across America, through neighborhoods rich and poor, selling magazine subscriptions to housewives, truck drivers, anyone willing to give her a little money, if only out of pity.
Bringing her along on his route, Jake shows her the ropes. His approach is to make up a story about who he is and why he’s selling subscriptions, each version tailored to what he thinks will work on the customer. It’s a con, in other words. Star doesn’t like that, but can she achieve her dreams without compromising her principles, or herself?
On more than one occasion, Star puts herself into potentially dangerous situations with men just to make a sale. It’s reasonable to ask if it’s probable that’s she’s this naive. Shouldn’t this character be more streetwise than that?
Maybe she was just born that way, as a trusting person. Compare her to Krystal (Riley Keough), the boss of the mag crew. “You’re an American Honey, just like me,” she tells Star. They come from the same background, yet Krystal is beyond unscrupulous in her business practice, but I’ll say no more. She takes no joy in the debauchery she makes a display of, and judging from her flat affection, she’s dead inside.
Star, on the other hand, is the kind of person who would catch a bug that crawled indoors and put it outside, instead of simply squashing it. She’s protective of Jake, and shows kindness to strangers. What makes Star so special, which Krystal cannot see, is that she cares about a world that does not care about her.
American Honey is shot in the old Academy ratio, which engenders tight, intimate framing of Star and Jake for their intimate—and somewhat graphic—moments together. The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, who finds meditative moments in nature for Star, a peaceful place for her to be by herself.
The film is longer than it needs to be, as if director Andrea Arnold could not part with a moment of her creation. It’s easy to see why. She’s created a portrait of America and American youth, something like Kids (1995), but it has something essential missing from that film: a glimmer of hope for Star and poverty-stricken youth like her. Perhaps for her, to take out a minute would be to deny a moment of the desperate reality she’s trying to convey. In that, she more than succeeds. 5 out of 5 stars.