American Honey, directed by Andrea Arnold, shines like the backlit summer-scape of your mind. Its visceral and concrete insight into the underbelly of the American dream submerges the viewer. The long shots of sunrises and sunsets over the rolling American landscape, and flashy scenes of grey highway somehow manage to both lull and unsettle.
Dumpster diving with her two young siblings, the protagonist, Star (Sasha Lane), stands in the rubble of discarded meats and vegetables, and watches a white van pull into the Kmart parking lot. Clearly captivated by the rat-tail wearing crust-punk Jake (Shia Labeouf) and his gang of miscreants, Star gets rid of the kids with the promise of Mountain Dew and finds herself in a checkout line courtship. “We Found Love in a Hopeless Place” blasts over the supermarket speakers and that familiar, primal feeling of the chase fills the theatre: Arnold turned fluorescent lights and welfare cheques into raw passion.
So begins American Honey.
With nothing to lose and never looking back, Star joins the crew of lovely dirtbags in their mandate of selling magazine subscriptions all over America — if you thought the travelling salesman lifestyle died out with the benzo-popping trucker faze, according to American Honey, you were very wrong.
The mastery of this film lies in its choice of acid rap and imagery, which Arnold uses to build the characters into the patchwork American landscape. The crust punks are filthy beautiful with shorn, bleached hair and deplorable manners that steal the hearts of the audience. The groping wisdom and quirky platitudes thrown around the white van voice the adolescent confusion of the 21st century.
Star’s journey through the American dream takes us through the backwaters of the United States where she sees homes that, like her own, have fraying photographs pinned to stained walls. America’s hidden welfare state is subtly conveyed through the children, who are blind to the poverty in which they live.
Though Arnold does not attempt an overlying political message, the contrast between the sunny, wealthy suburbs and grey towns shape Star’s experiences. The edgiest scenes between Jake and Star take place in the more prosperous towns.
The nostalgia I felt watching American Honey clung in my throat and made me buzz, like I was back hitch-hiking down stretching highways clinging to the top of logging trucks. Through its simple articulation of human emotion, American Honey reminds the viewer of the frenzied passion that lives in each of us if we feed the fire of freedom