Directed by Andrea Arnold
Its been a long time since a film has made me feel this alive.
There had to have been a moment in her almost year long road trip across the united states when American Honey Director Andre Arnold discovered that the united states is country divided by political ideals and old world hierarchy but underneath all the madness, all the tension, all the over-saturation, there is a true optimism that is sequentially american.
in some ways, its what makes us American. We are bonded by a common belief that tomorrow is going to be better. and we aren’t wrong.
American Honey begins with Star, played by incredible newcomer Sasha Lane digging in a dumpster for both food and recycling, in the hot Midwestern sun. Hitchhiking home, Star locks eyes with Jake, played by The genius Shia Lebouf driving by in a large, sports van and follows them into a Kmart, where she witness’s Jake and a large group of others break out in spontaneous dance to Rihanna’s We Found Love, being played over the loud speaker.
in the parking lot, Suave Jake convinces Star to join their magazine selling crew operated and headed by the cold and leader headed Krystal (Riley Keough), on their journey across the expanses of the Midwest in search of the almighty dollar
There salesman travels takes them across the great plains, house to house meeting and seeing everything there is to offer. There is the sense of no end to this trip, the continuous cycle could parade on forever and it wouldn’t bother any of these lost souls because this is as free as they can ever become
The magazine Crew is filled with extremely colorful, lovable, outcast characters, painting a Korine like picture of outsiders coming together, forming a group of unity and common interests far from the outside world that shuns them. They are wild, crazy, spontaneous and potentially dangerous but all of them want nothing more than to live a life better than the one they left behind to hop onto the mag crew. Most of them young, coming from Broken Homes and families, finding a family in both the road and crew itself.
The business is legitimate but there is so much going on, its hard to keep up with how much money is being made by actually selling magazines. After an argument with Jake walking through a very “country suburban” suburb, Star hops into a car, ditching Jake with three cow boys who are paying her for her company and good time. Entering their home, Star for the first time is able to see the end game, a huge house and pool, probably bigger than any she has ever seen, both inspiring and scaring her. She finally see’s the rich opportunity there is doing the kind of work she has elected to do with the crazy crew but also in the fear that what they are doing is all they will ever do. The mag crew might be meant to be a mag crew and nothing more.
Jake comes in to interrupt the party, flashing his pistol, firing a shot into the BBQ. Star Protests saying the cowboys were nice but Jake takes the money and car, and escapes.
Him and Star end of up driving aimlessly in the stolen car, eventually stopping and making love for the first time in back, One of the many passionate and realistic sex scenes through out the film –
American Honey is not a film about why, its a film about now. Being alive is a choice, and its when nature takes over as the guiding force that is truly becomes interesting.
In some ways this film is a visual poem, forgoing plot and “traditional” narrative structure for a visceral, life like experience, that requires you to submit to whatever it throws at you. its a portrait of a place and time, something wholly american. Andrea Arnold is able to capture the quintessential cinematic essence of everyday life as well as making the harsh realities of poverty digestible enough for anyone to be able to enter that world.
The soundtrack to this film is near perfect, a mix of popular music, rap, country, and shoe gaze, displaying the erratic sensibilities of the group with most of the sounds being played by the crew in the van driving from Hotel to Hotel.
One of my favorite moments in the film is when Star gets a short ride from a trucker and they sing along to Bruce Springsteens “Dream Baby Dream” as she convinces him to buy some magazines. I can’t think of how many times those cinematic sensibilities played in my head as i drive in a car listening to music, its hard to escape that, its a cinematic essence of every life to the highest order, and something everyone has some relation to.
Krystal – The groups CEO and manager, handling all the money keeps tight control over how the group operates and does not take kindly to someone not making money. She frequently threatens to leave Star on the side of the road with no food, no money if she doesn’t make a profit. Riley Keough is completely entrancing, her role is cold, and entrepreneur, taking absolutely no shit from anyone, especially no one under her employment. Keeping Jake on a leash, she doesn’t ride in the van with the rest of the crew, instead being chauffeured by Jake ahead of the group in a white convertible mustang.
I have never been a critic of Shia Lebouf and this film proves my suspicion that he is a premiere acting talent and among the best of his generation. Jake is the fire of this film and the source of a lot of the energy both positive and negative. He is a dangerous person, he is unpredictable, like a modern Freddy Quell, A contemporary Tramp.
I truly believe this is one of the finest films of the decade, no question the finest american film in a long time. American Film has lost its soul, and it takes a outsiders perspective to show us how cinematic daily life is for the every day american, and that at every turn, every street, every Walmart parking lot, there is abundance of stories that are uniquely ours.
I hope everybody see’s this film and then checks out every film by Andrea Arnold, and while some will really dislike this film, there is no question it possess the energy missing from modern american film.