Directed by Andrea Arnold
Released September 30, 2016
A film’s runtime often has nothing to do with its content, but sometimes it can be telling. Data shows that films tend to be about two hours in length, on average, and therefore two hours and forty-three minutes can be considered a real outlier. What that means is either that little editing was done and much of the original footage was preserved, or that this is an epic story that requires time to be told. “American Honey” is not an action film or a period saga, but instead an immensely compelling exploration of one young woman’s freewheeling tour around the country with her entire future ahead of her.
Star (Sasha Lane) is first introduced hitchhiking on the side of a street with two young children to whom she acts as a mother despite not being all that much older than them. In the parking lot of a supermarket, she meets Jake (Shia LaBeouf), a free spirit with a wild look in his eyes who rides around in a van with a group of other aimless teenagers selling magazines under the leadership of the alluring, bossy Krystal (Riley Keough). Seeing a chance to get away from an abusive home and dead-end future, Star ditches her kids and boards the van en route to Kansas City and beyond, just hoping to experience something that will give her hope for what might lie ahead.
Star is a fascinating protagonist, defined by strong opinions about how people should be treated but rarely put to practical use in a consistent manner. She immediately tells a haughty Krystal that she can be trusted and then oversleeps her first morning on the job, and sabotages Jake’s strategy during a joint magazine sale attempt when she feels that his methods are untruthful and malignant. More than anything, Star doesn’t know who she wants to be yet, but this journey is all about the exploration and not having anyone tell her what she is supposed to do.
Lane is a true find, exhibiting a prickly spark very worthy of positive comparison to Katie Jarvis, the lead in director Andrea Arnold’s equally enticing “Fish Tank.” She makes it easy to root for her even if most of her decisions aren’t admirable or commendable. LaBeouf and Keough offer a marvelous kind of dazed support in their respective roles, both so committed to their work and just as insistent on living a casual, free-wheeling life filled with drugs and built on not putting down roots or accepting reality. The three of them define the film’s style, a magnificent road movie prone to musical outbursts and truly letting its plot take it in any direction at a moment’s notice. Like its protagonist, “American Honey” is a hypnotic, mesmerizing, immensely intriguing experience that leaves a lasting impression.