American Honey is beautiful to look at, to listen to, and to completely lose oneself in. Vast and unpredictable, stretching in a multitude of directions over its 163 minutes, it’s a canvas of raw, honest beauty. All films are works of art, but this one is the one you remember hours after the gallery, wondering how something so unexpected could still be lingering with you.
Escaping from her troubled home in the American West, Star (Sasha Lane) is recruited by Jake (Shia LaBeouf) and hits the road to sell magazines door to door across the country with him, and a vanload of misfits. Star is a character that (I know it’s a cliché) shines – Lane captures what it is to be a kid, an eighteen year old, mingling childish, giggly girlishness with a raw and brutal, old soul nonchalance. She oozes a certain magic, an open book of emotion; there is something simply beautifully bewitching in her performance. Perhaps that is because there is a tangible element of reality to the film – it was shot with mostly natural light, the sweeping landscapes amplified, the perfect backdrop to this road movie. Shot in chronological order, American Honey blurs the boundaries between presentation and representation. The actors are mostly unknown - Director Andrea Arnold approached teenagers in the street whom she thought would be good for the film, holding impromptu auditions in car parks; the viewer, somehow, understands this immediately.
This is a portrait of kids, kids in America who want to make money and party and have a good time. Amongst this picture, however, is the message that the kids aren't alright; but that that is alright.
Lane is almost matched in her honesty by LaBeouf, but not quite. LaBeouf makes a convincing Jake, unflinchingly reckless. He is, however, outshined by Lane’s free-spirited, heart on the sleeve, impulsive Star.
American Honey’s soundscape is as picturesque as its landscape. A melting pot of current tracks, intercut with classic American mixes, from Bruce Springsteen to Razzy Bailey to Juicy J, American Honey never lets you feel like you have a grasp on what it is. A tingling sense of dread runs through the film, the viewer expects the worst, knowing what usually happens to young girl in movies where they run away and fall in a form of love with a boy they shouldn’t.
Quite simply, Arnold has crafted a piece of cinema that defies predictability; not on a grand scale - there is nothing ostentatious and obvious about American Honey - but in a way that matters. It matters that the film is honest, and raw, some scenes feel like a punch to the gut, and others have you laughing. A wonderful concoction of American beauty, dreams, sex, comedy, and captivating snapshots of pure Americanness, American Honey is a masterpiece I certainly didn’t expect. And yet, it all suddenly feels like it makes perfect sense. Good films grant clarity, and this, this is a great film.
American Honey is screened at FACT until 31 October. Find out more, and book your ticket here.