American Honey

American Honey ★★★★½

Indulgent, expansive, and heartbreaking—American Honey is a coming-of-age roadtrip to the American heartland that uncovers the marginalized realities of the youth and the desperate. It is also fair saying that this is Andrea Arnold’s ode to the free spirit and beyond. Known for her gritty, empathetic explorations of the disenfranchised souls headed by strong-willed women, Arnold never falters in discovering more cinematic possibilities without compromising her complex attention to the characters’ realities. American Honey follows Star as she joins a group of youth drifters selling fake magazines across the Midwest while still being lost as a reckless, love-consumed teenager.

Like her much lauded film Fish Tank, a film that left me deeply scarred for the rest of that year, American Honey sides on the grittier lives of the youth and how they keep on living when everyone else is discouraging them. If Fish Tank is suffocating yet concise in its tone and atmosphere, American Honey is expansive in length and visual terms. This gives Arnold a more breathing ground for her rough, sprawling narrative with the help of her pleasing digressions of pop tunes, party craze, and intoxicating romances. But Arnold is not entirely successful with this freedom. The expansive allure of the film carries a burden, which is to keep every single part still riveting after two hours. It is messy, and yes, indulgent in how Arnold goes round and round to things. But then something happens in the last hour, the film surprises you big time with the raw feeling you get from hanging out with these characters. This made American Honey something special. A moment of raw, pure emotion that surprises you when you least expected it.

This is a long roadtrip of a movie worth the risk and time. Arnold’s use of boxy ratio makes her understanding about the cinematic possibilities even more impactful as she goes beyond from what is being put on screen. Somehow when we think about a ‘box’, we think of being limited, but Arnold uses that opportunity to express the lives of these characters ‘outside the box’. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan makes a stunning impression as well, evoking poetry beneath the mundane, stark landscape of the Midwest.

As for the performances go, Sasha Lane is phenomenal in this star-making turn. Completely fearless and responsible of her actions, Lane is convincing as the reckless teenager searching for love and happiness in the world. Where and who does she search for it? Well, it’s all in Shia LaBeouf charismatic presence. This is LaBeouf’s best performance I have seen and one of the best of the year. His Jake is so intense, expressive, and mysterious but carries that powerful vulnerability that makes him relatable and affecting. I’m not familiar with Riley Keough, but she is good as well, going real hard in her character. Overall, American Honey is an imperfect, near-cinematic masterpiece where its flaws make the film standout. It takes you to a ride where at the end of the day, you not only feel exhausted and dirty, but you also feel mesmerized and absolutely impacted by its raw, intimate power.

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