American Honey

Fearless, uncompromising, and shocking, American Honey exposes the harsh underbelly of the elusive American dream. This swerving road adventure is energized with a youthful exuberance for life and a hopeful future while living on the seedy edge of an amoral lifestyle. 

It’s the Easy Rider for millennials; an unflinching and mesmerizing odyssey that follows Star (Sasha Lane), a gutsy teenage girl fed up with babysitting the young children of irresponsible parents who spend their time drinking at the local bar, when she flees her impoverished home to join a ragtag group of misfit runaway kids who ‘work hard’ scamming and robbing their way from town to town as they travel across Middle America in a van selling magazine subscriptions.

Andrea Arnold, the British director of the acclaimed film Fish Tank (2009), also about a teenage girl coming of age in working class Essex housing projects while witnessing the struggles of her single mother eking out a living by prostitution and drugs, was herself the product of years of living off welfare and scraping by while feeding her children. Here Arnold turns her eye on the American equivalent of lost aimless youth.

Using a mostly non-professional cast of actors who are utterly natural just being themselves, and filming in an array of veritable locations; truck stops, trailer parks, parking lots and abandoned houses along the endless highways of America, American Honey looks and feels as authentic as an amateur home video that never censors itself from the ugliness and beauty of the people and places it visits for short periods.

This little seen behind the garbage dump corner of American life could well be the ignored, underrepresented, low income America that recently put a reality TV business mogul in the White House.

The camera never stops moving as we are ferried endlessly in a van full of tired restless kids, capturing desolate mind numbing expanses of American landscapes, strip malls and billboards. But what is most distressing is the moral emptiness of these kids who will do anything for a buck and are heading for a dead-end life of drugs and lost dreams.

Sasha’s performance as Star is courageous and vulnerable at the same time. She wants to find an authentic life and is awestruck by the life of freedom and fun the traveling group of wild kids seem to lead. Led by the charismatic slightly older hustler Jake, Shia LaBeouf is exceptional here in a fascinating performance and brilliantly cast as the longtime team leader and go-between for the gang of kids and their intimidating female boss Krystal played by Riley Keough.

Throughout their travels and adventures together Jake and Star quickly form a strong sensual bond and have a great chemistry between them. The hip-hop soundtrack of contemporary hits that blasts on the radios of their vehicles and inside various department stores gets the kids hollering and dancing with glee as the ever changing landscapes flash by in the background giving the film a surreal fun-house feel.

Innocence is quickly lost in this dreamlike alternate reality America as the homeless kids are exposed to the severe realities of their desperate situations but do so with a life affirming resilience that is all too recognizable in children shielding themselves from the uncertainty of their plight. 

American Honey is an intimately observed and brutally honest drama about kids in hopeless situations living day to day never knowing where they will find themselves and a sad commentary on the effects of a consumerist and morally corrupt society gripping America’s youth.