Wesley R. Ball’s review published on Letterboxd:
American Honey is absolutely gorgeous- a sprawling portrait of the American landscape that micromanages its depictions of the individuality of American culture. All this is seen through the never resting eyes of a curious late teenager, whose insatiable lust for new experiences motivates her to move forward to the next big shot. American Honey isn't a film sparked forward by plot, and anyone looking for a traditional narrative form will walk out with much to be desired. The story and its pacing instead move along at the whim of the protagonist, who always follows the money, as would any broke teenager stuck with a traveling van of magazine salesmen. The wandering feeling that the road trip aspect (which encompasses much of the film) radiates is set to the backdrop of popular songs of all different genres- country, rap, and pop artists like Rihanna have songs that all make appearances, all bringing together different tones that mix together to appropriate the "sounds" of modern America. Perhaps it's this sweet little touch to the production that makes American Honey one of the best modern deconstructions of the American culture.
Shia LaBeouf delivers a fully loaded performance, bringing a firecracker of a character to the screen that transcends anything I've seen him in before. He's wholly human- filled with flaws that make and break his relationship with Star, his dynamic enigma fueling his great mystery. It's relieving to finally see him mature into a more fleshed out role that he can really make all his own (although I've yet to see Nymphomaniac).
Director Andrea Arnold chose to frame her film in a full 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which seems like an odd choice for a film so reliant on its Malickian landscape scenery. Instead of using a widescreen matte to let landscape photography breathe and expand to its fullest, Arnold wants us to remain focused on the characters. It gives the film a restricted viewing range, forcing the audience to stick close to Star and the other characters, disallowing any room for distraction from what she wants us to be focused on. Additionally, it personifies a feeling of inadequacy that hangs over Star- despite gallivanting up and down the entire east coast with this group of strangers in a van, she can't seem to fully grasp a fulfilling experience. The 1.33 frame characterizes a sense of hollowness in a lifestyle that offers little substance.
The sexually-charged scenes emanate the drifting feeling that the American teenager takes. Passion is unloaded at a whim, without thought or care as to how they arrived at that particular point in their relationship. I'm usually picky about whimsical sexual relationships in a film, but the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants incitement that ignites the sexual moments perfectly complements the on the go tone that dominates its story. Like every instinctive choice that had been made by Star thus far began to emerge in an explosion of sexual desire motivated by an aesthetic attraction. It's rare to find a film that so tactfully uses its sexual encounters to mirror its themes so vividly without feeling like audience pandering.
American Honey is without a doubt one of the best films of the year. It takes "the American Dream" and questions whether or not we're already living it- or if it's really even worth searching out in the first place. Andrea Arnold creates a masterclass coming of age story that examines the true perception of the American culture as a whole. The constant need for new experiences penetrates this group of magazine-selling kids, never wanting to lay low for a time, always eager to search for the next new scene. American Honey is constantly moving, rapidly fluttering by waves of various pieces of the American culture. It shows just how diverse we are as a nation, and how vastly different life can look just a few short hours away. It is a revolutionary cultural masterpiece.