American Honey

American Honey ★★★½

Arnold finally hits. Moulding her signature brushstrokes of gentle humanism with an underlying canvas of modernity and its defeatist banality, American Honey consecrates and crumbles upon its self-declared title an ideal, a cipher, a vanishing wisp of smoke. The camera’s indulgences, especially grating and manipulative in Fish Tank, are deliberate here, paraded not so much for just aesthetic masturbation (though that is definitely a symptom) but more towards a crushing endpoint to the illusion of individualism her frames stubbornly refuse to accept, even till the final shot. Star’s road trip around the landscapes of Americana aestheticises the very journey, a world seemingly open to opportunity and/or redemption, meritocratic to those open enough to embrace said opportunities; like Zola, another film also with a notable performance from Riley Keough (though on the other end of the spectrum), American Honey illustrates through the gaps its decaying or already decayed sheen of excess, of communalism forever circumvented and contained within the capitalist doctrine of wealth that sets no one free. The road crew sing and dance merrily through the very end — as Arnold avoids direct spectacles of cynical violence — but their position in Star’s eyes is anyone’s guess. Are they family? a means to an end? Curiously enough, her character’s obstinacy and impulse render the narrative more effective and impressive; her behaviour is frequently contemptuous, spoilt, generally undeserving of the relative safety she enjoys despite the seedy realism and reputation of the places she frequents. And yet, that has two effects, one being that Arnold, as if anticipating criticism of her films as poverty porn, goes in the opposite direction and sketches out saturated hues of honeyed boundlessness for her characters. The other, more tellingly of the film’s (perhaps accidental) brilliance, is that of concealment: Americana is already dead, and the hip-hop pop maximalism of life on edge, on the high, on a trip to undefeated self-determination, serves merely as its fever dream.

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