The space between being a child and an adult - youthfulness - is full of manic energy, enormous emotions, nervous lust, and restlessness. It is a time of experimentation, of being able to let go and run off, of figuring out who we are, who we are going to be. Andrea Arnold’s American Honey captures that moment in life perfectly.
First-time actress Sasha Lane plays Star, a lost child who left her meth-addicted mother in Texas to live with a family in Oklahoma and raise their two kids. The mother prefers spending time at the local bar line-dancing and the father gropes her unapologetically. When she sees a van full of kids her age pull into a Wal-Mart, she wanders in herself to see who they are. When a Rihanna song comes through the loudspeakers, the kids throw an impromptu dance party. Enthralled, Star goes over to meet Jake (Shia LaBeouf) and is invited to come with them to Kansas where she can help them sell magazines. She does and for the rest of the movie we follow this rag-tag group of kids as they travel across the country partying, fighting, laughing, and making money any way they can.
Jake becomes her trainer, showing her how to go door to door selling magazine subscriptions (the film never explicitly says but you get the feeling there really aren’t any magazines, that it's all a scam to make more money). He uses every technique he can think of to sell - becoming anybody and everybody he thinks the potential buyer wants him to be in order to get that money. Sasha, having some kind of moral center, balks at this and is unwilling to lie. Being told she’s got to sell or be dropped off on the side of the road, she starts jumping into the trucks of various men and flirts with them to make a sell. She’s smart enough to know that her youthful body makes them interested, but naive enough to not think they’ll cause any harm. The film plays with this, putting Sasha into situations that could so easily go really wrong to give it some much needed tension.
There is a relationship, of sorts, between Jake and Sasha. They flirt and have sex when wanted. There are periodic spouts of intense jealousy, but the film is smart enough to not imbue it with the soft focus romance that movies love so much.
The rest of the troupe is made up of non actors except for Riley Keough who plays the boss - she finds towns they can sell their magazines in and run-down hotels they can lay their head. The non-actors are mostly background noise, not given enough depth to be more than loose characters who give us an idea of the sorts of people who would live like that. For those purposes, they do really well and blend nicely with the professionals.
Andrea Arnold really did load them all into a van and drive them around the country garnering a real authenticity to their (mostly) improvised antics. I hesitate to sound like a typical IMDB user and call it "boring," but at 163 minutes it is long and its leisurely pacing makes it feel a lot longer. Much like Kerouac’s road story, American Honey is the sort of film that certain types of people will find deeply meaningful and others will dismiss as rambling, pretentious, and lacking cohesion. For me, I can appreciate what its doing without really being able to attach myself to it.
The Blu-ray looks and sounds great. I didn't notice any problems with the transfer. There are no extras.
American Honey will be released on December 27, 2016.