All of which, are American dreams.
Star (Sasha Lane), lives a pretty grimy, sad and depressed existence in American Midwest. Her mom is basically nonexistent, which leaves her to go dumpster-diving with her two younger siblings and come home to a predatory stepdad who doesn’t give a hoot about anything, except getting drunk and acting perv-y. One day while in a grocery market, she stumbles upon Jake (Shia LaBeouf), a strange, mysterious, but ultimately compelling guy who, along with a bunch of other young people just like he and Star, go around the country, selling magazines. Why? Or how? Well, the answer is never all that simple; all that is simple, is that the leader of the group, Krystal (Riley Keough), doesn’t mess around when it comes to her making a profit. Although Star has obligations at home, she decides to run away and join the magazine-sellers and gets into the business of selling the American Dream, by any means necessary. But while doing so, she falls head-over-heels in love with Jake, someone who may feel the same way for her, but may also not want to lose his job as the top magazine-seller.
American Honey is, for me, the movie of the year. It’s the most fun, most excited, most emotional, and most compelled I’ve been with a flick all year, and it’s also perhaps, even in a crazy, messed-up and year so ripe with controversy and heartbreak like 2016, the perfect testament to the American heart, spirit and pride that makes people bleeding hearts for this country. And what’s weirder is that it’s written and directed by Andrea Arnold, who is, of all people, of British descent.
Oh and yeah, a star is definitely born.
Which makes me wonder: How does an outsider get such a view of America so downright perfect?
Well, for starters, it helps that Arnold is a pretty great film-maker who, with each and every film she makes, she continues to get better and better. With American Honey, Arnold ups her own ante by rolling with a cast of mostly unknowns, allowing it to be lead by an unknown, having a run-time of 164 minutes and yeah, mostly never shying away from the actual grit of the American Midwest that most movies shy away from. And even if they don’t shy away from them, they still make the American Midwest, and the people that inhabit it, out to be some sort of hillbilly, redneck-y jokes, a la, Larry the Cable Guy. Arnold is a much better and smarter film-maker than that showing that while there are definitely some despicable hicks in the Midwest, there are also some genuinely nice people, trying to make it in today’s economy, where the lowest of the low suffer more and more with each passing-year, and those on top of the food-chain, never have to worry about being taken down.
That said, American Honey isn’t nearly as preachy as I make it out to be; it has a lot on its mind that Arnold, occasionally, will make a mention of, but she isn’t preaching, she isn’t delivering a sermon, and she sure as hell isn’t taking sides on who she does, or doesn’t support in the upcoming election. If anything, she is telling an honest, down-an-out love story, that also deals with a lot of people who don’t ever seem to bathe at all throughout the whole two-hours-and-44-minutes. Because of that, sure, it may seem like Arnold is judging these characters, but really, she’s not – in ways, she shows that they all have hopes, dreams and aspirations for what they want to do with their lives and futures and are just using this magazine-selling business as a way to make it one step closer to achieving said dream.
Sound sort of relatable?
Like I’ve said though, Arnold isn’t trying to get a point across. Her movie never strays away from the focus of our lead protagonist, Star, and for that reason alone, the movie’s great. She is, for lack of a better term, compelling and all of the inexperience she may have as an actress, never shows. Sasha Lane is a talent that, what with the tight aspect-ratio, we never can look away from; there’s something about the youthful way that she acts and looks, that not only makes you think you’re watching a kid come-of-age and understand the world around her more, but actually believe it. I don’t know how much of American Honey was scripted and wasn’t, but all I do know is that Arnold knows how to perfectly capture what it is to be alive and, most importantly, in love.
True love in all its sweat, dirt and uncleanliness.
Cause yes, once again, I reiterate, American Honey is a love story and it’s one where you not only believe in the love at the center, but also feel it. Because we see everything through Star’s eyes and perspective, we literally see this Jake figure as the main of her dreams – a towering, somewhat douche-y figure who knows just what to say to her at the right time, even if he is rather illiterate at times. But watching them two together, whether it’s the non-stop flirting, or fighting, you can’t take your eyes off of them. A good part of that has to do with the amazing performances from Lane and LaBeouf, but it also has to do with the fact that Arnold pays attention to the smallest little bits of detail that make them compelling and exciting to watch, even when it seems like they’re destined for failure.
Oh and yeah, LaBeouf is amazing here. No, seriously. A lot of people like to think of him as a bit of a joke, but I kid you not, LaBeouf is the real deal here. He reminded me a whole lot of Brando, in that there’s something sad and vulnerable about him, yet, also a bit of macho and captivating. There’s times when you don’t know if you can trust him and/or his intentions, but there’s also other times where you just have an idea that he’s the nicest, most sincere person around. We never quite know or trust this character and that’s sort of like falling in love, isn’t it? We’re never quite sure what the other person is thinking, or wanting to do, until they actually say it, or go for it, right?
Either way, LaBeouf is my choice for Best Supporting Actor this year at the Oscar’s. He probably won’t even get nominated, but so be it.
And as for all of American Honey, it’s probably going to be the least-seen movie of Arnold’s career and won’t garner a single Oscar, but I don’t care about any of that. American Honey is the rare indie that’s large and ambitious in its scope, but also aims for those intimate moments of heart and humanity that’s hard to capture, regardless of how many time you’ve spent with real life human beings. It has something to say about the poor, destructive economy of the Midwest, but it also shows that there are certain ideals and values, not just with the Midwest, but with pop-culture, that still exist and are prevalent to even the youngest and most impressionable of minds. If anything, American Honey made me happy to live the life I have and made me want to go out and do more with it.
And yes, possibly even try to sell magazines.
Consensus: Heartfelt, exciting, tender and most of all, powerful, American Honey is the perfect movie the country needs now, even if no one knows it just yet.
10 / 10
Red, white and confederacy, ya’ll!
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire