Fantastic Fest Review: American Honey Starring Sasha Lane And Shia LaBeouf


Easy Rider for Millennials

The sweetness of American Honey is not derived from a bee; it comes from a wolf. The call of the wild. The sound that alerts us to others. Andrea Arnold’s film does not concern itself with the spectacular now, instead drawing focus on the unspectacular present. Seemingly a metaphor about America’s current state of affairs, American Honey is a story without structure in search of stability.

We see the United States through the eyes of Star (Sasha Lane), a native from Oklahoma, who begins her journey in a dumpster – not from the gutter – as she scrounges for table scraps, the half-eaten morsels to soak up the honey spilled from America’s melting pot. Of course, I’m being figurative, not literal, in describing Star’s present situation. While she is digging through a dumpster, along with two children not of her loins but to whom she is caretaker, sharing a ramshackle home (and a bed) with their father, Star is in a fog, directionless.

When a job opportunity arises, she frees herself from her self-imposed imprisonment and travels to Kansas City. Packed in a cargo van like a can of sardines, Star meets others like her: urban decay; the spit-upon; millennials from broken families unsure what constitutes their social status. The job is hawking something that is a leftover from my generation (read: X): magazine subscriptions.

We’re familiar with the racket. Going door to door selling to housewives and husbands. It’s a hustle; a team of two trying to raise money to go to college, or for their church. The story changes depending on the mark. The subscriptions may be legit, but the money is funneled to the organizer who gets fat off the hog, while the rest get a small percentage. To call the organizer a glorified paper-pushing pimp is not far from being truthful.

The other subscription peddlers cut a swath through America, coming from West Virginia, Florida, and Mississippi just to name a few states. They have a similar make-up: strung out, tattooed, carefree, passing liquor and joints while the van’s in motion, all about the now. Picture the kids from Kids as millennials and you get the idea. And then there’s Jake (Shia LaBeouf), the one who caught Star’s attention about the group in the first place: causing a scene at a K-Mart store, turning the checkout lanes into a mini rave as Rihanna’s “We Found Love” plays over the loudspeaker.

For those who have labeled LaBeouf loony with his art projects (JUST DO IT!) and stories from productions (not bathing for weeks during the filming of Fury), American Honey will make you question if the former star of TV’s Even Stevens has become one of those transformers he got to play with. His performance is deceptively good as the top salesman, two-strapping a Jansport on his back as he mentors Star on the art of the sale. More like the art of the hustle. Because that is essentially what America has become: one big hustle to get what you want in life. By hook or by crook.

Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights) has crafted a gritty representation of today’s lost youths, using her trademark visual style. Academy ratio. Close-ups and side profiles. Her adherence to hand-held photography. Robbie Ryan does a masterful job in capturing the rebelliousness of youth juxtaposing our heroine, Star, in seedy, dimly-lit motel rooms to saturating the screen when night turns to day.

American Honey is not a movie for general audiences. At 158 minutes, and with as many false endings as The Lord of the Rings, our characters meander through scenes with no sense of direction. Which is kind of the point. This isn’t see the USA from your Chevrolet. American Honey is ripping through the heart of the United States without a map, a compass or directions. Experiencing life and what it means.

Writer and Director: Andrea Arnold
Notable Cast: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough

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