American Honey is a celebration of a unique youth culture and depicts a gritty and raw aspect of the American working class.
American Honey follows a group of youths travelling from state to state on an alcohol, drug and rap fuelled journey selling magazine subscriptions by any means necessary. The film’s lead, Star, played by Sasha Lane making her professional debut on camera, is an 18 year old girl desperate to escape her troubled home life in Texas. We’re introduced to Star as she searches through a dumpster for food with two young children who we later discover not to be her own. As star sets off home with her dumpster meal for that evening, a van full of young people drive past. We’re then introduced to the sleazy yet infectious antihero Jake, played by Shia LaBeouf, who offers Star a job and an escape from her troubled home life.
The crew travel from state to state selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door, lead by the hard-shelled, fierce manager Krystal (Riley Keough). As Jake trains Star in the art of selling, his sales figures begin to tumble as he becomes infatuated with her. Their complex and unconventional relationship develops over the course of the film, but similarly to the plot, has no resolution or outcome. Both LaBeouf and Lane give powerful and believable performances and their magnetic chemistry on screen has reportedly transferred behind the camera as the two have reportedly been dating.
Jake and Star often disregard moral boundaries in order to make money and their actions reaffirm their positions as the film’s antihero/heroine. He steals goods from people’s homes, lies and even robs at gunpoint. Star, who openly opposes Jake’s methods, finds other means and at one point turns to prostitution. This was striking as it illustrated the fragile nature of people in such positions and the ease in which that situation could become a reality.
The travelling scenes are often intimate and claustrophobic as the camera is placed in the cramped van. But the discomfort is irrelevant to the youths as they find an element of community, togetherness and unity on their travels and connect through the ritualistic performance of song and dance. Music and song plays an integral role in the film. The audience is offered a restricted insight into the supporting cast’s characters, however music is often the way in which they express themselves, show emotion and reveal elements of their personalities.
There is symbolic imagery of flight and setting things free; the camera often focuses on birds flying, representing Star’s dream of truly being free and breaking free from the restraints of working class life. There is also a scene where the camera focuses on Star on a swing – she’s just not able to take off and must come back down – mirroring the way she comes down from the drugs and alcohol.
The film is intentionally long, running at 163 minutes, to represent the uncertainty of these youths’ lives and the lack of resolution or outcome. Andrea Arnold has done a magnificent job in directing a visually intriguing and energetic film that grips the audience by the scruff of the neck and throws them amongst the rituals of working class youthhood. The film’s plot and structure represents and celebrates the youthful discourse of a disregard of the conventional. With beautiful cinematography and subtle symbolism, the audience joins Star on a journey in search of freedom and identity in a bleak scene of America not often portrayed on film.
You can catch the film at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff until November 17th. Chapter is a unique and vibrant multi art-from venue that supports independent and foreign film as well as mainstream cinema.