Cannes 2016: Andrea Arnold's 'American Honey' is Wild Yet Moving
by Alex Billington
May 15, 2016
What a film. It's not often that a film running a lengthy 2 hours and 42 minutes is easy to sit through, but in this case I'm happy to report I was caught up in this story all the way to the end. American Honey is the latest feature from British filmmaker Andrea Arnold (of Fish Tank, Red Road previously). This time she heads to America to profile a group of wild, carefree youngsters selling magazines while driving around the mid-west in a van. As boring as that might sound, it's actually an incredible look at the life of these kids and it exquisitely captures a side of Americana that we rarely see shown in this way. This way meaning - shown in a positive light, shown in a way where even though their lifestyle is pretty shitty (they often steal and live together in motel rooms), they seem to be living that glorious life that many are seeking but can't truly find.
No matter which way I try to explain it, this film is going to be a very hard sell for most people - especially considering it's 162 minutes long. The closest comparison I can think of is Spring Breakers, but if you didn't like that film don't let this comparison deter you from seeing American Honey. This film follows a Southern girl named Star, played by newcomer Sasha Lane, a real "American honey" who decides to join a group of roving wild youth in attempt to make some money and give her boring life a boost. All of them participate in a door-to-door magazine selling operation run by Krystal, played by Riley Keough, and they party every night, drinking and smoking all day long as they come up with stories to get people to hand over cash. It's a brutally honest and raw look at this version of American life and the endless pursuit of financial happiness.
One of the other members of the group is Jake, played by Shia LaBeouf, who actually does an impressive job bringing this pony-tailed wacko to life. Star and Jake spark to each other and start to work together, which is where most of the drama comes from. LaBeouf and Lane both give themselves completely to the roles, I was convinced and never once doubted either of their characters. This film is all about this current generation's ability to live so freely, so wildly, so sleazily, yet they still genuinely connect and find happiness despite being packed into motel rooms and living out of suitcases. There are so many other layers to it as well, analyzing the various ways Americans earn money and how they can be taken advantage of, not to mention the oil boom. At one point they venture into Williston, North Dakota to try and sell to oil families.
Another great film to reference in regards to this one is the outstanding documentary The Overnighters, set specifically in Williston. American Honey is brutally honest because it actually does criticize America - if you look closely. Despite this group of kids living a lifestyle many of us want nothing to do with, the film is deeply moving, utilizing a fantastic soundtrack that is worked into their moments of revelry - they dance, they party, they celebrate, even if they didn't make money. They live the good life. This is all so beautifully captured by Andrea Arnold and it's mesmerizing to watch, thoroughly engaging from start to finish, and surprisingly emotional and impactful. I loved this film and it's an exceptional work of cinema, demanding our respect. Andrea Arnold is a masterful filmmaker and shows just how capable she is with this film. Bravo.
Alex's Cannes 2016 Rating: 9 out of 10
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