Director: Andrea Arnold
Starring: Sasha Lane, Riley Keough, Shia LaBoeuf
American Honey is one of those movies were you fall in love with it, or absolutely hate it.
The American road movie as a cultural touchstone is one of those things that provides opportunities for great cinema and storytelling, with themes and stories that range as wide as the landscapes their characters traverse. Some road movies have become cultural and cinema icons- Easy Rider is a legendary example of a true American road movie, and Thelma and Louise a fine cultural classic that stood the test of time.
The film centres on a young woman named Star, who is in a dysfunctional relationship with her deadbeat partner, who one-day simply decides to join Jake’s rambunctious crew of magazine sellers who go on the road to hawk their wares.
From that scenario in mind, there is not much story happening, but this film is not about its story- its very much an exercise in character study. The movie asks for our sympathy, not for our judgment- and a tacit understanding that they are flawed, that they are capable of love, jealousy, acts of kindness and spite. Even the other peripheral characters have their own little quirks, It is worth noting that the director chose to cast both actors and non-actors for the characters.
There is a certain desolate beauty in the cinematography, as the audience is taken across different parts of the American mid-west, from truck stops in the middle of nowhere, the oil fields of Texas, and into the bayou. The colour palette leans toward warm, highly saturated hues, drawing the viewer into the world of these travellers, and the sense of freedom and camaraderie. The heavy use of popular music, from going trap to rock, helps create this atmosphere.
My interpretation of the film- is that at heart it is a story about self-discovery, a well-constructed and subtle portrayal of empowerment. We see Star at the beginning stuck in less than stellar circumstances, and then gradually finding herself as she travels, falling in love and being hurt by betrayal. The overall narrative isn’t really important, as to that of the internal narrative of the character.
American Honey is a film about nothing in particular. And the lack of nothing happening does eventually does wear out its welcome. But the landscapes and the panorama of the American mid-west maybe worth the admission fee alone.