American Honey

American Honey ★★★★½

American Honey is set in the kind of world you tend to see depicted quite often in US TV & films - a marginal, white-trash place somewhere in the flyover states, where breakfast is off-brand vodka and a bong, and the best you can possibly imagine for yourself is a trailer out in the woods somewhere to raise up your kids. But what Andrea Arnold does with it is something exceptional, because she's not dealing with the conventions of 'realism' here. In 'realism', characters whose lives are hopeless only make things worse by their choices, no matter how much they thrash about & kid themselves they have a chance. You know from the minute you see them rummaging for food in a dumpster & pulling out a whole raw chicken that their lives are going to be short and terrible.

So what Andrea Arnold does here is pretty shocking. She just follows her main character as she impulsively hooks up with a wandering bunch of kids who drive from town to town selling magazine subscriptions - a scam so transparent that nobody, the sellers or the buyers, really needs to believe in it - and she imposes the bare skeleton of a structure, where the New Girl, Star, falls for the Head Guy, Jake, only to discover that he's the property of the Woman in Charge, Crystal... cue a dangerous affair that should by rights destroy everybody's lives...

Then the film just goes for a drive across America and shows us that what's out there may not be as terrifying as we want to believe it is. The storyline, though spoiler-proof, is best experienced as it happens, so I won't say anything about it. It's worth saying that the casting of La Bouef, which had me scratching my head, is actually one of the film's great ideas. His character is a puzzle, a loose cannon and a creep who's also the love interest. The audience can't get a handle on him at all, and that's just fine. It works. You're placed squarely in Star's position for most of the running time, an outsider looking in.

It's a long film, and one that isn't big on story, but it's a pure pleasure to experience from beginning to end, visually & musically, with the best choice of end credits music since Rian Johnson ended Brick with Sister Ray.

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