American Honey

American Honey ★★★★

With the market of acclaimed small-scale films about the disenfranchised and aimless youth/millennial population of the Southern or Midwestern USA—usually distributed by A24—pretty much cornered by Sean Baker, it's always a nice surprise to see someone else throw their hat into the ring. Andrea Arnold's entry into this vigorous sub-genre is particularly bold as, not only does she proclaim her intentions to mark a definitive entry in the canon by straight up slapping the word "American" in the title, but she herself isn't even American! You could argue about whether or not that dampens the legitimacy of her vision, but far be it from me, a Canadian, to be the one to do so. As it stands, American Honey, at least within the context of itself and nothing else, is a powerful, mostly impartial examination of the desultory corners of the younger generation.

At close to three hours in length, American Honey takes its aimless spirit to heart, developing its beefy surrounding crew of unmotivated young adults in the tiniest of spurts. To pick any of these secondary n'er-do-wells out of a lineup by name only would be an unreasonable task given what Arnold does with them, but this bite-sized approach to development works, as our conduit into this mobile world is herself taking everything in as she goes; one piece at a time. For the purpose of realism, it works effectively, but when it comes to establishing this instant spark between Sasha Lane's Star and Shia LeBoeuf's American Honey Boy, the listlessness of it all in conjunction with such a demanding runtime doesn't quite add up with the film's insistence on the addictiveness of that relationship.

Arnold's subjective lane goes beyond the sparseness of American Honey's story, as her camera keeps as close to the characters' portraits with a shallow focus lens, taking in all the rich hues of the American Midwest mainly as just that; hues. We don't always see what objects or backdrops display those colours, and that hazy vision further puts us into the day-by-day, vibe-heavy mindset of these youths.

On the musical side, Arnold peppers her film with a small but prominent sampling of hits-du-jour, not only selling us on the type of music that soundtracks these lives, but in the repetitive application of these songs, tells us more than just that these kids like trap music; their lives are so directionless that they don't even have a wide exploration of bops in their repertoire. (Also, shout out to Arnold for being ahead of the curve on this, because I guarantee that Rihanna's "We Found Love" will be the go-to soundtrack song for future period pieces about the love-drunk, party-hungry 2010s... for better or worse. You heard it here first, folks!)

This Baker-dominant brand of exploring fringe Americana is a type of film that, barring some exceptions, basically requires viewers to already be on that wavelength. If you're not, American Honey isn't going to convert you; in fact, you may very well find it to be the most insufferable entry in the genre. But in exploring such a seemingly uncomplicated sector of its titular country, American Honey offers an honest and partially subversive take on the topic. The best of these films root themselves in a sense of place, and Andrea Arnold makes the case that that grungy place is, for some, less defined by rural county borders and more by a somewhat generational way of life—or more significantly, a lack thereof.

A24 Ranked.

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