American Honey

by Michael Cox

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday October 5, 2016

'American Honey'
'American Honey'  

"I feel like fucking America," says the young protagonist, named Star, in British auteur Andrea Arnold's mesmerizing road movie, "American Honey," a look at the broken dregs of capitalism ever striving to be born anew.

Star says this as she stands up in a moving convertible, her fist thrust into the air, wind whipping through her hair. It's an indelible and iconic image of the road movie and the American dream. But is "fucking" an adjective or a verb in this statement? To really experience this country to its fullest, to taste all the sweetness this country has to offer, one must screw the great nation, its institution, its laws and its people -- and it's never an equal exchange.

One of the many marvelous things about this movie is its ability to communicate the gestalt of a generation through up-close, Instagram-esque cinematography; inexperienced, non-celebrity actors; improvised dialogue, and a pulsating sound track that both orchestrates the audiences emotions and remains naturalistically motivated.

Robbie Ryan's cinematography embraces natural light and frequent cutaway shots, with images of sunlight passing through leaves and long afternoon shadows, juxtaposed against extreme close-ups of poverty (most likely taken from real settings). Editor Joe Bini uses these cutaways to stitch together a free-flowing and hypnotic narrative, filled with metaphors of the natural (weak and defenseless creatures) caught in a manmade world. (A flying squirrel and a turtle are captured as pets, and insects are constantly struggling to be free, trapped in windows or drowning in a swimming pool.)

The film starts out in a dumpster as Star (Sasha Lane), her brother, and her sister search for edible food and come across the boon of a raw chicken, dripping with juices and sitting in the sunlight. At 18 years old, Star is the primary caretaker of her small siblings, a job that she makes possible by living with a man she detests.

But an encounter with a traveling salesman named Jake (Shia LaBeouf) changes all that. This instantly attractive and charismatic man offers Star an escape. She flees her relationship, dumps the kids on their natural mother (a woman she will later say died of "meth") and jumps into a van full of itinerant young Americans who travel the Bible Belt selling magazine subscriptions.

Of course, Jake is not all that he appears to be. He's not sinister; he's just not holding as big "a piece of the pie" as he pretends. He is the boy toy of the real entrepreneur behind this shady, little enterprise, Krystal (Riley Keough).

As a salesman, Jake not only sells himself and the illusion of his product, he sells his body. And by the time the movie is through, Star will also sell not only lies but sexual services. This is as natural for the business as a beautiful underwear model posing for an advertisement on the glossy pages of the periodicals they're peddling.

Though Star champions the truth, she will lie, and she will seek success and money using whatever means might be necessary. Still, she remains idealistic, and most of all compassionate, even if redemption in this movie is not a thing that is clearly defined.

In addition to obvious road movie allusions -- "Easy Rider" and "Thelma & Louise" -- this movie adds to the great examinations of capitalism and the American Dream, such as "Death of a Salesman," "Glengarry Glen Ross" and the brilliant 1969 direct cinema documentary "Salesman" by the Maysles brothers.

Even with this rich history, "American Honey" maintains a style and voice all its own which makes the movie, hands down, one of the best films of the year.