By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Andrea Arnold has pretty much laid claim to the storied British Social Issues Drama genre in the new century.
Sorry, Ken Loach.
With American Honey, however, she trains her eyes across the pond, following a young girl (newcomer Sasha Lane) who finds love in a hopeless place with a rat-tailed magazine huckster (Shia LaBeouf, perfectly cast) and the crew of ragtag forgotten teens which a Confederate Flag-bikinied Fagin (Riley Keough) shepherds across the country, door to door and cheap motel to cheap motel.
American Honey both revels and wallows in a side of America movies usually ignore, the Middle, the South, Central Florida side, the uneducated white underbelly side, and the undoubtedly trashy delights of the cheap liquor, bad tattoos, good pop hooks and hard beat drops, and too much makeup side. There’s plenty of Great Recession relevance without every having to spell anything out, although to be honest these people have probably never had it all that good.
To illustrate this Arnold dives into a weird little corner of American commerce- the nope, still going door-to-door salesman side, now populated with the desparate youth and shysters who even the sad sacks of the Maylses Brothers would look down their noses at.
Lane is a real find, with the same utterly easy authenticity and charisma of Fishtank‘s Katie Jarvis, but with hopefully a longer career ahead of her (if she even wants it). This fresh of the street muse grounds the film while doing an admirable job of revealing the inner life of a character who may not be too different than her own, but who radiates life, soulfulness, and more than a little youthful indiscretion.
Her only sales method.
Shia and his rat tail fit right into this milieu, as does Riley Keough’s unplaceable accent and meth-thinned dirty blonde good looks. Everyone else is non-pro, and just like Lane, project a lack of artifice that makes for a film that often seems to flirt with that documentary line. What keeps it from going over is Robbie Ryan’s hand-held camerawork, which is maybe his and Arnold’s most beautifully immediate collaboration yet. They find the attractiveness in Kansas City nowheresville neighborhoods under the streetlights and could be anywhere motel parking lots, in oil derricks lit by bursts of flame and even a touch or two of gorgeously textured near-magic realism. Finally, how not to mention a soundtrack that could be on Now That’s What I Call Music 75 or whatever it’s up to if it even exists anymore, but which is deployed to such affect so that you can’t help but feel just a bit of youthful joy bubble up and threaten to spill over.
I was going to call out the 165 minute runtime, but this film flies by like a dream. Rather, a couple of moments that took me out of the film were anti-Christian bait bites that felt like they had to be shoehorned in. If it feels wrong, leave it on the cutting room floor.
American Honey is an ode to youth and the natural hopeful state it engenders no matter what darkness plays at its corners.
American Honey (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for surprise nudity
Take a Drink: for cigarettes
Take a Drink: for choice pop cuts
Take a Drink: for swigs and puffs
Take a Drink: for questionable choices in hairstyle
Do a Shot: for clearly bad decisions from the start