Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is an emotional and visually beautiful look at the struggles of the American lower class. It portrays the decisions and journeys of a young girl named Star as she goes from dumpster diving for food for her and her two young siblings to trying to escape through the appeal of a magazine-selling caravan of people from similar situations from around the country. The film is shot beautifully from a primarily hand-held camera and the music throughout the film is mostly diegetic – what the group is actually listening to and singing along to on the road – putting the audience right in the mix with the eccentric group of travelers. The film obviously appeals to younger viewers through the pop culture references and popular music, but I think that this film is a piece of art that can be appreciated by anyone that gives its two-hour-and-forty-three-minute runtime a chance to impress.
Throughout the travels across the country we tag along with Star, (played by Sasha Lane in her film debut) and Jake (Shia LaBeouf) as they encounter different people to whom they try to sell their magazines. The lives of the potential buyers are drastically different than the lives of the group trying to pitch their magazine. This juxtaposition is a constant reminder of with whom the audience should be identifying; the poor, underprivileged youth that have become trapped in a pyramid scheme in attempt to escape their lives of poverty.
The chemistry between the actors playing the group is undeniable. The dialogue and relationships feel very natural as a result of a successful use of improvisation from talented non-professional actors. The professional actors, LaBeouf especially, do a fantastic job as well; LaBeouf plays the character Jake as a very believable sociopathic salesman turned obsessive lover.
Ultimately the film is a great showcase of the class struggle in America and the ups and downs of trying to find identity, respect and love in a society where money is the number one priority and a lot of people have to compromise their beliefs and sometimes abandon their families and morals to only get an attempt at “success”, not even a guarantee.
Released by A24, American Honey is a British production helmed by a British director, and was an Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival in France, but that takes nothing away from the distinctly American feel of the film, but contributes to the awareness of the problems that are prevalent in American society, that are helped by the perspective of an outsider.
A24 has yet to release a film that doesn’t strike a particular chord with me. The company appeals to this generation’s socially conscious cinephiles in a way that Hollywood studios couldn’t possibly. A24 has been actively involved in important and relevant social issues of today, including the decision to donate a portion of opening weekend box office earnings from its most recent release, 20th Century Women, to Planned Parenthood over the weekend of the presidential inauguration and subsequent Women’s Marches across the world. The studio has released a plethora of amazing independent films in the four years since its inception, including this year’s multiple Academy Award Nominee Moonlight, and I can’t wait to see what else they put out going forward.
Check out the trailer for American Honey here.
Do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the catalogue of amazing films from A24 at their website: http://www.a24films.com/films
-By Kirk Yoshonis