A grocery store chicken wrapped in plastic is fished from a trashcan and thrown to a little red-headed kid. A young woman spontaneously riding in a pick-up truck with a group of oil-workers who sneer when she asks “if they’re rich.” A van filled mostly with white kids in baseball caps, tank-tops, and metal neck chains dropping f-bombs and N-words. It’s a vision of our country that has only partially been explored in film and with 2016 forcing us to realize that ignoring such a vision has real world consequences, “American Honey’s” income-inequality focused Americana ought to become required viewing.
“American Honey” is told through the point of view of “Star” (Sasha Lane), an Oklahoma girl seeking to escape her trailer-park situated suffocation. Star joins a crew of impoverished young adults led by Shia LaBeouf’s Jake and Riley Keough’s Krystal on a trek across America in order to make money selling door to door magazine subscriptions by any means necessary, be it looking like Church Volunteers or perfecting the art of flirting with rich Southerners. Most of the kids Star rolls with are runaways, have no permanent shelter and if they are poor at making money, they are throw to the side of the road. Star’s experience traveling through the forgotten highway belts and isolated communities of America marks an exploration into the consequences of America’s increasing income-inequality, correlated with her discovering all the pleasures, pains, and confusion of youthful independence.
“American Honey” captures the wildness and erraticism of discovering adulthood through great honesty due to it’s refusal to lean on artifice and perpetual stimulation. Scenes of the magazine kids bouncing multiple conversations in a cramped van are given just as much weight as the staggeringly realistic love scenes between Lane and LaBeouf. Director Andrea Arnold uses “aspect to aspect” filming techniques that give us shots of the immediate space of a scene for the sake of building mood, such as shots of a chubby little girl sitting on the grass of a parking lot, or a sea of buzz-cut bar patrons drinking beer at a square dance. By doing so, Arnold allows her surroundings become just as organic as the characters, thus consistently marinating the film’s action in the context of a struggling American landscape. The performances contribute substantially to Andrea’s tone due to the sense of spontaneity their dialogue delivery entails, be it main star or supporting player. Sasha Lane in particular displays great skill in being able to convey intent with only her face, and Shia LaBeouf delivers his best performance by channeling his trademark primal aggression as a mask for a young man coming to terms with his groundlessness.
If “La La Land” seemed obsessed with escaping America’s economic tribulations, “American Honey” bears them for all to see. It’s a disquieting, raw, often uncomfortable coming of age story that opens up the scabs crusting on America. Yet if you decide to look into the wounds, you’ll find an excellent foray into girlhood that ranks among the best films of 2016.
(featured image flickr-BagoGames)