American Honey’s vibrancy is unmistakable. Andrea Arnold’s perspective on rural suburban America is often interspersed with the ins and outs of a travelling band of teenagers and upbeat soundtracks. As Star (Sasha Lane) seeks a new beginning which brings her both healing and heartbreak, her journey brings about an inward reflection about her place in the entrenched,impoverished and chaotic communities she interacts with and belongs to. Although quite abit too long and draggy, American Honey’s redeeming quality comes from something subtle beneath all the romp and rave. As the film whittles away with Razz Bailey’s ‘I hate hate’, I am transfixed long into the credits, reeling in Arnold’s creation of somehing special here; Finding poignancy in optimism…and optimism in poignancy.
American Honey’s long run-time is a misstep. It mars the message of the film and trades in repetitive and superfluous scenes of foolish love and desire. Sasha Lane and Shia LaBoeuf’s aggressive love-making scenes could have been cut down and group cheers and sing-alongs could have been trimmed. I felt like Star’s purpose in her journey would have been tighter without the excess. Andrea Arnold did a great job capturing mellow moments of Star’s isolation within her own group as well as moments of communial strength which empowers her, but then she overloads this with a bunch of mediocre scenes which take away some of the power. It’s still a unique film with beautifully shot scenes of teenage vibrancy as they traverse a landscape both kind and unforgiving. Through our protagonist Star, American Honey pits her’s innate goodness and forthright nature against waves of events and people, finding experiences that illuminate our perspective. Sasha Lane has no formal or former experience with acting but her rough naturalistic charm wins us over. She makes Star one of the most memorable characters I’ve seen on screen. As the symbol of American Honey, Star is like a feather drifting in the wind; She becomes just as important as the film’s social commentary and inextricably connected to the heartbreaking conditions of rural America.
Andrea Arnold’s style is weirdly affecting. Despite the serious nature of some of the themes presented, her camera is always shifting and highly restless. And if she finds a nice spot to settle, it’s often an unconventional perspective on things. She doesn’t seem to mind out-of-focus transitions as well, which might get some people to think she’s trying to hard to be art-house and indie. A good amount of scenes build on a mixture of melancholy and happiness, self-doubt and self-assuredness, isolation and unity. Instead of contrasting emotions, I was surprised at how daring and effective the film was by combining tones and moods. The flamboyance of teenage behaviour is on full display but I loved most of it. For me at least, I could understand and appreciate the foolishness of youth…I mean come on, we’re teenagers, it’s what we do! But Andrea Arnold’s best scenes don’t come from here, it’s more of a filler so I don’t exactly mind it. What does it for American Honey is how Star encompasses both the carefree live-in-the-moment side of her and the kindness and maturity that becomes a response to her experiences. In trying to resolve the inner tension, the film becomes a kaleidoscope of raging desire, roadtrip reflections and the rousing tune of youth.
As the movie leaves us with Star at her point of self-realization, the movie partly an ode to youth itself. American Honey ends with only as much to offer as what teenage life promises; The next step into the unknown is scary and exhilirating. We still have the power to forge what lies ahead of us and make what difference we can for ourselves and for the world…even if it’s just a small bit. Arnold weaves this in a larger framework of America’s underbelly of dilapidated communities and degenerating societies. Arnold’s film is too long and far from perfect, her refreshing and artistic take may be too distracting for its own good. But at least it offers a sense of the real life. It’s hard to digest at first how the film portrays life flickering by without a sense of an ending but it’s so real and somehow also invigorating. The more I think about American Honey, the more I love it.
Rating: 9/10 Sasha Lane and Shia LaBoeuf were awesome to watch. One of my favourites of the year despite having some pretty stark flaws. It just goes to show still how affecting the film was.