THE STORY – Star (Sasha Lane), an adolescent girl from a troubled home, runs away with a traveling sales crew that drives across the American Midwest selling subscriptions door-to-door. Finding her feet in this gang of teenagers, one of whom is Jake (Shia LaBeouf), she soon gets into the group’s lifestyle of hard-partying nights, law-bending days and young love.
THE CAST – Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough, Raymond Coalson, Chad McKenzie Cox, Verronikah Ezell, Arielle Holmes, Garry Howell, Crystal B. Ice, McCaul Lombardi, Shawna Rae Moseley, Dakota Powers, Isaiah Stone, Kenneth Kory Tucker, Christopher David Wright, Will Patton & Bruce Gregory
THE TEAM – Andrea Arnold (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 163 Minutes
By Matt N.
I am not entirely sure “American Honey” had to be 163 minutes long. However, I would be hard pressed to find what should be cut out. “American Honey” is more of an experience than anything, just as much for its audience as it is to its leading character, Star. It’s a sprawling, deep dive into another side of America that many may not be familiar with all in the pursuit of the often talked about “American Dream.” But what is that dream exactly? Is it to have lots of money and live in a big house with a family? Is it to live happily with freedom? Or is it to simply live? Writer and director Andrea Arnold’s long yet interesting tale of one girl’s coming of age story is as fascinating as they come.
Taking place in the American midwest, Star (Sasha Lane) is a down on her luck, teenage girl who is taking care of children who don’t belong to her and not living the life that she wants. She impulsively decides to join a young group of boys and girls who go door to door all across the country selling magazines to make money for hotel housing, gas, food and overall quality of life. Jake (Shia LaBeouf) is the best salesman out of them all, even if Star disapproves of his lying methods to customers as a means to make sales. However, she takes a liking to Jake, as Jake does to her, much to the objection of Krystal (Riley Keough), the tough as nails leader of the group who not only takes a large portion of the group’s sales but also is having her own relationship with Jake. As her journey takes her across the country, Star learns exactly what it means to become an adult or as she is referred to as at one point, an American honey.
There is an honesty and authenticity with which Andrea Arnold not only shoots “American Honey” but also allows it to play out. This is essentially a plotless film that acts as more of a fly on the wall for Star and the group of young people she travels with, all with dreams and desires. The cinematography of “American Honey” is almost documentary-like at times as we follow Star on her journey of self-preservation and discovery. Her relationship with Jake (Played with charm and charisma by Shia LaBeouf) is a complicated one that is not only sexy but also a power play between the two that holds our attention throughout. And that is the skill of Andrea Arnold. The fact that she is able to hold our attention for over two and a half hours despite there not being much of a plot to “American Honey” is quite a testament to her skills as a director and also the performers in this film. There is an energy to this film that is intoxicating, backed by many mainstream songs and moments of expressionistic freedom that makes you feel alive while watching it.
Which leads me to the discovery that is Sasha Lane. This is her film acting debut and she completely knocks it out of the park as Star. Plucked from obscurity and with no formal training, her authenticity, look, and tone is perfect for the enigmatic Star. Without trying to make a pun here sound intentional, a star is truly born with Sasha Lane and I cannot wait to see what she does next in her long and hopeful career. Credit also must be given to Shia LaBeouf. For all of the flack he has had to endure in this stage of his career, he too turns in a finely tuned genuine performance that hits all of the right notes and continues to make him one of the most underrated and exciting actors around.
“American Honey” will receive a lot of criticism for its lack of a plot and its exceedingly long run time. However, Andrea Arnold’s skill as a filmmaker and storyteller, backed by a truly terrific ensemble, led by the confident turn from newcomer Sasha Lane, helps to keep “American Honey” afloat. It’s a singular commentary on today’s youthful America that is trying to forge a new path for themselves separate from the previous generation before them but still in pursuit of the American Dream.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Andrea Arnold’s vision and ambition. Sasha Lane’s confident acting debut. Shia LaBeouf’s charismatic turn.
THE BAD – An aimless plot with a long runtime will frustrate many viewers.
THE OSCARS – None