Andrea Arnold’s latest drama American Honey is a raw, primal and contemporary Jack Kerouac meets Easy Rider road movie centered around Star (Sasha Lane), a teenage girl living in stark poverty. After catching the eye of Jake (Shia LaBeouf), she becomes convinced to join a crew of carefree, magazine salespeople as they cross the country. Known as a “mag crew,” Star is a naïve young girl attracted to the care-free excitement of the crew consisting of social misfits and outcasts with limited prospects. Star is placed under the tutelage of Jake, the crew’s best seller, at the behest of Krystal (Riley Keough), the sexually uncouth yet ruthless mag crew manager. For the duration of the film, the audience is placed in an almost-voyeur situation in which the adventures of the mag crew and Star are chronicled. Through Star’s youthful naivety, she finds herself traveling through the American landscape as she thrusts herself into various quagmires.
These experiences give view to the underbelly of American life inhabited by the cynical, uneducated, dissatisfied and terminally-ripped off Middle American underclass, viewed from a point of youthful ignorance where all platitudes have been rejected. Star is the window from which this world is shown, and Sasha Lane’s performance feels natural in its environment. The film ambitiously conveys a naked romp through the summer night, exposing those far outside of this experience to something unpleasant, unusual and quite foolish. However, the film demands that it be viewed without judgment as it absorbs one into its abyss in an effort not be loved or liked, but to be understood. The ambition in which the film is made with is quite admirable in that despite its messy presentation and needless 3-hour run time, it forces thought and consideration of something beyond what is required as a standard or viewed as an accepted norm.
The excursion of American Honey is one of arthouse grandeur that is likely to attract a certain audience while immediately repelling all others. However, its purpose seems less about commercialization or mass appeal. Instead, Andrea Arnold’s film is more about extrapolating the thought found in the commonalities of the mainstream American experience into another part of its landscape that is far less understood, explored and viewed without an air of dismissive judgment. In doing so, American Honey may not become a kind of luxurious journey into youthful decadence as some more glorifying explorations have been. However, it will provoke a reaction and fester itself into the mind of the viewer. A film both this ambitious and messy can’t help but so do.