American Honey review – an engrossing story about lost childhood and growing up

by | 14 Oct 2016 | Film Reviews

‘A teenage girl gets caught up in the wild antics of a hard partying, rebellious travelling magazine sales team.’

Andrea Arnold makes her American debut with coming of age/road movie American Honey. Similar to previous films like Fish Tank, Arnold’s latest follows the life of a young girl named Star (Sasha Lane) living in an impoverished and harsh environment desperate for a way out. You know her life is bad when the film opens with her and her younger siblings scavenging for food in a rubbish bin to feed themselves.

Combined with an abusive father and absent mother, Star jumps at the chance of escape when she bumps into a travelling magazine sales crew, led by Riley Keough’s Krystal and Shia LaBeouf’s Jake, who offer her a job. What follows is a story of self-discovery and first love, of exploring a world outside her small bubble and building a new surrogate family from these new friends as they travel around America working hard during the day, but also playing hard at night.

Throughout the film Arnold also uses the road movie format to explore the divide between the rich and poor in America as the crew travel up down the country in this nomadic and hedonistic lifestyle, exploiting both to sell their magazine subscriptions. Arnold also makes good use of the various locations and shows off middle America’s natural and rustic beauty. Added with that is a very realistic filming approach using mostly hand held cameras that follow Star around. This all helps ground the film and gives an impression of a documentary crew following her and filming her life.

In fact, the camera never leaves Star. American Honey is very much about her and her experiences; she’s the centerpiece of this film. With that comes a huge amount of pressure that even seasoned and more experienced actors would struggle with.

Fortunately, Lane does an amazing job with what is easily a breakout role, and made even more impressive by the fact it’s also her acting debut. She brings real depth and a huge range to her performance as she’s both naïve and mature, grown up and childish. She perfectly embodies someone who’s had to grow up too fast and is now able to let loose now she’s escaped that responsibility.

Lane also doesn’t over play it in the dramatic and rightly steers clear of the kind of soap opera acting that could so easily come from this type of performance, and instead is able to skillfully give Star more nuance and subtlety. In one scene, for example, in which Star and Jake enter a house of a wealthy family, hopping to sell a subscription, you can see all the emotion in Lane’s face and body language: the barely contained hatred and jealousy towards this family, the unfairness that they seem to have everything where she didn’t.

The whole film certainly rests on Lane’s performance, but she’s also helped by LaBeouf and Keough, who play good second fiddles. LaBeouf particularly, shows he can handle playing a charming and charismatics character who can straddle that line between good guy and bad guy as he genuinely seems to care for Star but is also under the thumb of the controlling Krystal. The rest of the cast are good but even with over two and a half hours, there’s too many of them to get to know properly and they feel mostly there to fill out this makeshift community.

‘American Honey is a great film.’

Not only does it have a story that will leave you hankering to quit your day job and seek the freedom of the open road, but it’s also a film about the loss of innocence and coming of age, which we can all relate to in one degree or another. With a standout performance from Lane, it’s worth of all the praise it gets.

David Axcell

Film Critic

David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.

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