American Honey written and directed by Andrea Arnold (A24, Parts and Labor, British Film Institute, Film4, R, 163 min)
Starring Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough, McCaul Lombardi, Arielle Holmes, Crystal Ice, Veronica Ezell, Chad Cox, Garry Howell, Kenneth Kory Tucker, Raymond Coalson, Isaiah Stone, and Dakota Powers.
A Suburbanite’s Dance with Poverty
My closest dance with poverty waltzed through my life in my early twenties. Mind you, poverty in the most white, suburbanized approach to the word. Even during my lowest earning periods, parents possessed a knack for encouraging currency toward my empty coffers, let alone the fail-safe of an exhibit-quality room waiting for me were I ever to require lodging again (I did).
As such, the suburban white kid experiences poverty when he dreams of rock stardom and convinces a handful of other white suburban kids to take up axes and by opposing capitalism to end them.
The small band tour opens the eyes of the privileged to a lifestyle forced upon many. The van becomes your bed. The Wal-Mart restroom operates as tooth brushing facility. And showers are a luxury for the bourgeoise.
When considering the influence of American Honey upon viewing, its realism of poverty offers stark reminders of band road trips with few decimals in the bank account.
Introducing American Honey
Focusing on Star (Sasha Lane), the titular American Honey, American Honey introduces its protagonist in a garbage bin as she discovers a packaged raw chicken. With stepchildren in tow, Star scrounges for her family’s supper.
While aiming to hitchhike her family back home, Star encounters Jake (Shia LaBeouf) and his cadre of misfits dancing to Rihanna in a Wal-Mart.
An Offer You Can’t Refuse
Intrigued, Star engages Jake. She wants to know the deal. The answer? A job. Door-to-door sales. Magazine subscriptions. Star has 24 hours to decide before the sales men and women proceed to the next town.
Torn between a real-life job opportunity and babysitting her stepchildren, Star believes her time has come to take life by the horns and operate autonomously.
What follows is a depiction of road tripping flyover country. Star discovers how the hope and joy of a job opportunity fades with the reality of the work. Most effective sales pitches involve lying and goading richer individuals into pitying her unfortunate circumstances. Even worst, most of the money funnels to Krystal (Riley Keough) supposedly for administration feels but clearly to fund her own shopping habits.
What keeps Star going is the potential for a budding romantic relationship. Rough around the edges, Jake is a dreamer. One that shares many of Star’s dreams.
Shot in 1.33 aspect ratio, the film feels personal and the cinematography reinforces the in-your-face feeling of living in the midst of this motley crew. The depiction of poverty resonates in its realism. Not every poor person sits near the underpass panhandling; some hustle magazine subscriptions.
American Honey, specifically in its road trip format, hearkens me back to the days of loose change in the pocket as a starving artist. Even more than my chosen pursuits, American Honey places an empathetic look at the people doing whatever it takes to barely make ends meet in Middle America, so often neglected in pop culture. American Honey is masterful filmmaking. Recommended.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5