American Honey is a new American road movie. Andrea Arnold proves once more why she is such an exciting director.
Hoping to escape her less than ideal life, teenager Star joins a travelling magazine sales crew. As they travel across the Midwest, Star gets caught up in the partying and the nomadic lifestyle…
Writer-director Andrea Arnold’s American Honey combines aspects of a traditional road movie with a contemporary outlook. The film marries a throwback style with an unappealing reality. Star is a protagonist that viewers will get behind, even if some of her choices are questionable.
Opening on an average day for Star, the film immediately paints a less than ideal picture. This is not the story of a girl wanting an escape from her mundane existence. American Honey is darker than this; a theme that pervades the entire film. Viewers will sympathise with Star, and later will likely feel tense at the situations she gets herself into.
As the film progresses, the lifestyle of the characters becomes repetitive. Arnold is making a point here; it is not a envious lifestyle of these young adults, but it is better than where they have come from. The interactions seem natural, particularly the camaraderie on the road. Arnold depicts a range of characters, without delving to far beyond the main players. Nevertheless, she offers enough for viewers to feel familiar with the group. Krystal is also a strong character – a Fagin of sorts who both looks after and exploits her charges. Jake is a wildcard, likeable in his demeanour yet unreliable in his motives.
A very telling aspect of American Honey is the scenes in which the main characters talk about dreams. Their fantasies are so simple, yet not so attainable. This exemplifies the new American dream; not a life of riches and comfort but simply a space to live a normal life. Arnold captures this shift perfectly.
American Honey has one of the best soundtracks of the year. The camera work is both intimate and energetic. The handheld camera, in the van in particular, gives a strong sense of the lifestyle. Sasha Lane is very believable as Star. Riley Keough is also good as Krystal. Shia LeBoeuf brings a manic energy to Jake that viewers will have seen before. This suits the role, however.
American Honey is in its own way thought-provoking, sweet, and disturbing. A worthwhile watch.
American Honey is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.