According to American Honey, it doesn't always end badly when pretty young women get into cars full of strange men. Which, let’s face it, is a wonderfully positive message compared to what many films offer. It feels like barely five minutes passes without Star (magnetic newcomer Sasha Lane) jumping into a vehicle with a bunch of guys she’s never met, and each time you’ll find yourself hoping for the best, but probably fearing the worst.
Fortunately, American Honey dwells on the positive sides of a listless lifestyle with Star first jumping into a minibus full of carefree scruffy white kids who love nothing more than blasting out hip hop, having a good time, and making some money selling magazine subscriptions. Entrepreneur Krystal runs the show keeping her crew of kids working hard, along with her sidekick and best seller Jake (Shia Labeouf). Star jumps at the chance to get in on the action, living the wild life on the road and falling for Jake along the way.
American Honey’s motley crew roll around the affluent neighbourhoods of America, attempting to sell their wares by any means necessary, but the focus is always on Star and Jake as he trains her in the art of the hard sell. It's an episodic structure with no real goal in sight. It's telling that two characters are asked what their dreams are and both reply that they have never been asked that question before. These kids don't get to have dreams. Their minibus is a cocoon of angry hip hop, where they all get to spout repetitive brain-washing capitalist messages about getting rich. Their chemistry comes from sing-alongs and snatches of clearly improvised dialogue. Their single-minded little community lives only to make enough money to buy food, drink and drugs.
It's a wild ride; often too loud, too crazy and some of these kids are just too stupid to care much about. Some are clearly damaged in ways never revealed but it's hard to judge them when they’re all generally so sweet to each other. The documentary style and very real faces of these young actors makes them feel completely authentic. It feels as though this crew are too ordinary looking to be in a movie, right down to Shia Labeouf, the only real ‘star’ of the cast. Director Andrea Arnold never judges them, only really portraying Krystal as a calculating and cold character, whereas her focus on the young and carefree Star and the blossoming relationship Jake oozes with hope and optimism.
It’s a beautifully played road movie, but there’s no real destination for any of these characters to get to. While it’s great to see a film not resorting to punishing these characters for their breakneck, carefree lifestyle, it could have benefitted from a little more conflict. American Honey will frustrate some but as a time capsule and ode to youthful energy, it’s priceless.
AMERICAN HONEY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ANDREA ARNOLD / STARRING: SASHA LANE, RILEY KEOUGH, SHIA LEBEOUF / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 14TH
Expected Rating: 9 out of 10