Director Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is hard film to pitch to casual movie watchers. Its star is an unknown actress, it’s about a traveling magazine crew – a world most people know nothing about, it clocks in at 2hrs 43 mins, and is completely unpredictable.
Yet, there’s something about the film that sticks with you after viewing it.
The story follows Star (Sasha Lane), a down on her luck young girl who has a meet-cute with a young man named Jake (Shia LaBeouf). Jake invites Sasha to join him and his crew of magazine sellers. Star agrees and dives headfirst into a crazy world of road trips, parties, free spirits, and concerts in a van.
It’s not long before Star falls for Jake, but her puppy love puts her at odds with the crew leader, Krystal (Riley Keough).
The movie doesn’t follow normal story structure. It weaves in and out of Star’s involvement with the crew and her journey as a free spirit. The plot is best described as a girl’s journey of self discovery and a van full of kids singing rap songs. There’s no goal Star is headed towards. There’s no “thing” she needs to acquire or some space in life she needs to be at the end of the movie. The film is a snapshot of a young woman’s crazy life.
Sasha Lane is a star in the making. She has such a magnetic presence onscreen, the camera can’t help but focus on her in every scene. Lane gives one of the year’s best performances as Star. The plot doesn’t fully explain Star’s back story, but Lane is able to give the audience all the history they need through her performance. There’s the great scene when Star goes away with a group of older Cowboys. Lane channels every emotion – laughter, joy, fear, and ecstasy.
The other amazing performance goes to Riley Keough as Krystal, the bossy/shady leader of the group. It’s unclear what exactly Krystal does for the group besides collect money and threaten to leave them on the side of the road. She’s the closest thing the story has to a villain and Keough dominates every scene she’s in. One of the best reoccurring scenes in the film is when Star goes to Krystal’s room for talks and it always looks different. There are clothes, random guys, and alcohol. All of the randomness makes sense for the way Krystal carries herself.
The rest of the cast is filled out by a group of young people. The van rap-a-longs may seem excessive, bu3t it’s the only time the audiences gets to learn about these kids. Once the story leaves the van, it follows Star and whatever adventure she’s on – solo or with Jake. The van scenes are so intimate. The camera places the audience in the middle of a van full of rowdy young people with no escape.
American Honey will be a difficult film to recommend. The lengthy runtime and randomness will give most moviegoers pause. The length of the film makes it feel like chore while watching it. Once away from it, the story has time to breathe and is a lot more enjoyable. The audiences who do watch will be treated to a great performance and it will challenger their idea of what a movie should be.