Directed by: Andrea Arnold
Written by: Andrea Arnold
Starring: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough, Arielle Holmes, McCaul Lombardi
Depending on the starting point, a better life can mean different things as seen through the eyes of this film’s protagonist. The chance to make money and grow some sort of autonomy shows itself to be quite tempting until fully realizing the crowd that she has entered. Raw, reflective, and honest, American Honey displays it all in the way it examines the American dream and what it takes to achieve it.
After being left to care for young siblings and stuck with a sexually abusive father, Star (Sasha Lane) takes the opportunity for a new life. She meets Jake (Shia LaBeouf) at a K-Mart and learns about the chance to join a group of young people that travel the country selling magazine subscriptions. Not only does this opportunity give her the chance to make money, but also be far away from the mess her life became.
Some films just hit that special factor and display its brilliance all throughout and American Honey brings it and holds nothing back. From the way it was shot to the combination of performances, the film feels prophetic but also very insular about a particular experience of maturing and learning about the world through the eyes of Star. The way it comes together displays another masterful display of control by the director.
Andrea Arnold, with this film, continues her run of creating incredibly honest and raw depictions of life women have to face. As she does with my favorite film of hers, Fish Tank, she holds nothing back. Arnold is unafraid to show the warts and the diamonds of being a woman and continues to prove why she’s one of my favorite directors in the game today. American Honey could be classified as her epic, not only in runtime but the entire trajectory of Star’s story. While the story takes place in what feels like such a limited time, the change and development of the character feel immense. Every new interaction teaches Star more about the world-at-large and the one she specifically stepped into. As any great director does, Arnold also gets a tremendous performance out of her lead actor.
The star of this film is Sasha Lane, who put in such a brilliant performance as Star. She brings a type of innocence to the role that creates a pathway for the audience to experience the world she encounters. It’s necessary for this film because the lifestyle she entered may be new to everyone watching this film. It involves young people selling magazine subscriptions and they pay a percentage to their leader, Krystal (Riley Keough). Whenever they are not out selling subscriptions, they’re partying with one another, but no sexual encounters are allowed. Such a unique world and Sasha Lane opens it up for everyone to see not only the horrors but also what would make it appealing for a young person. It exhibits a type of freedom that she never had before. A chance for actual advancement and not having to worry about feeding her siblings or avoiding the unwanted touches of her father. Even with the pettiness, she must put up with at times, this life feels much better than her alternative.
While Sasha owned the film, she had excellent supporting actors to help her like Shia LaBeouf. His work as Jake shows a hollow man who presents himself as the ideal figure and yet loses control from the smallest form of resistance. Jake embodies the freedom that Star seeks through the way he lives his life and how he approaches her. The other stunning performance came from Riley Keough as the leader of this group of subscription sellers. She takes on such a despicable character that tries to assert control over all of these young folks. Her determination to continue her reign displays the darker intentions this character has over the rest of the folks in the group. Keough knocks it out of the park with this difficult role and puts in a strong performance.
Though much happens in the film that may suggest the opposite, the life Star chooses to live gives her the chance to be free. It shows itself in the scene of her just letting the wind let her glide as displayed in the poster of the film. Probably the most gentle scene but one that encapsulates this entire experience for her. Truly a tremendous piece of art from Andrea Arnold in conjunction with some strong performances. American Honey shows the struggles of seeking freedom but also the joys it can bring.