American Honey

American Honey ★★★★

A film about an escape that essentially leads into a different version of the same trap. From the beginning, it's clear that Star was born into unfortunate circumstances -- she's 18, taking care of two kids who aren't hers, living with a father who sexually assaults her. Obviously a lack of resources is going to be a theme through her life. Jake appears as a promise to take her away from the traumatic household. He travels with a large group in a van and they all appear free, uninhibited by society's norms and expectations. They travel and sell magazines door to door -- absolutely a dying industry, but there's hope if you learn how to sell. It's a toll that has to be paid to fund the lifestyle. In many ways this is a real family unit -- connections and support that Star has likely never had, a shared history, a set of traditions. This opening truly is promising and hopeful because a poor young woman gets the things everyone needs that she's been deprived of. The people are rough around the edges, but that's because that's how society looks at "people like them." If they tried to blend in with the middle class they'd probably be faced with their own internalized feelings that they just don't belong that way, and the reality that their lives thus far just haven't prepared them to do that. So they travel, essentially at random, yet with no connections to any one place, there's no reason to stick around long.

Then, well, money rules everything. Hierarchies show their ugly faces. Capitalism is distilled as people are literally valued by the amount of money they bring in from their magazines. Everyone does those creepy corporate chants before working. The way to get to the top (of the bottom) is pure manipulation. Women get it even worse as they are subject to the ways men think about them, objectify them, attempt to own them. Shia LeBeouf's Jake (in a fantastic performance) is possessive and uses people, but it should come as no surprise; his entire existence is built on (proudly) lying to people in order to get what he wants out of them. Sasha Lane plays Star (so incredibly naturally!) as really sweet and likable, but painfully naive and trusting at times. She rolls with things because she sees no other alternative, but she isn't comfortable with the way getting by requires her to lie and degrade herself. For a group of misfits, sometimes compared to characters in Harmony Korine's films, they're just acting out an altered version of the corporate meat grinder. The boss sits back, collects, and judges people on what they produce for her to take. Star has dreams that, in the course of the film, can never materialize; there's no upward mobility here. There's a lot more in this film to take in, though this is what really hit for me. Even in this unusual life that can appear more free and open on the surface, everyone is trapped in the same system. It's built on a load of fundamental assumptions about how the world should be that all prevent people from even questioning what life has given them. If there's any problem, it's that people don't read magazines anymore.

This all works because the presentation is so smooth. The camera is always close, intimate, constantly moving but in a way that feels purposeful and engrossing. The world is bathed in yellow and orange glows that are absolutely beautiful. Sure, the plot absolutely meanders, with alternating scenes of "events that happened" and loads of music-filled car rides. It could be a flaw for many people, but it feels true to the spirit of lost wandering. Perhaps at nearly 3 hours it's a bit much, though I was not particularly bothered by it. This is a movie you can just slip into and flow along with the ride. Totally worthwhile.

Block or Report

Daisoujou liked these reviews