Home Arts American Honey: Chasing American dreams in a hopeless place

American Honey: Chasing American dreams in a hopeless place

by Matthew Turnbull October 18, 2016
American Honey: Chasing American dreams in a hopeless place

One of cinema’s leaders in social realism, Andrea Arnold, returns with an American Indie classic

As the blockbuster season finishes and award season begins, American Honey, the fourth feature film by Andrea Arnold, emerges as an early favourite for number one movie of the year, winning the Cannes prix du jury.

An intimate American road trip movie about a few disenfranchised youths, American Honey provides a fun, sometimes horrifying look at people who aren’t often seen in cinema. It is a simple film in terms of plot, yet it is very complex in terms of character development. It is realistic without being cynical, and sympathetic to its characters without romanticizing the lower-class hero. American Honey is a special film with characters who are not romanticized as heros.

The film follows Star (Sasha Lane), an 18-year-old who is taking care of her dirtbag boyfriend’s two children. A chance encounter at a KMart with Jake (Shia LaBeouf)—in the role he was born to play—opens the door for her to escape her troubled domestic situation. She decides to go across the country with Jake and his ‘crew,’ a merry band of magazine-selling misfits. An intense romance quickly develops between Star and Jake, to the disapproval of their boss, Krystal (Riley Keough). From here on, there is not much plot—it is a mixture of a mundane work-a-day lifestyle and spring break.

Typically Arnold’s films deal with characters trapped in a society packed with symbolism related to a constant desire to be free in nature. ‘The Crew,’ as they are referred, move aimlessly around the country selling magazines while singing along to songs about making money. Star is quickly accepted by the group as one of their own, yet she still seems to not fit in completely. She is an outsider within outsiders.

Viewers who aren’t familiar with Arnold’s work should note going in that she is not a director interested in finite conclusions or plot-based stories. Rather, she is more preoccupied with observing people in the margins of society. Some viewers have been put off by the open-ended nature of her endings as well as the idleness of her plot lines, and American Honey is no different. However, the brilliance of this film is not the end of the road, but the journey itself. This is a road trip movie with no destination, because there cannot be a destination. In fact, Star’s journey is effectively just a circle which ends where it started.

While the cast, besides Lane, is entirely white and mostly heteronormative, interested viewers should be aware that this is not a nostalgic Americana love letter to the past. American Honey is a very critical look at a country built on classism—one which ignores its poor, never granting even a small hope of escaping the cycle of poverty. The film can be described as an epilogue for the American Dream.

American Honey comes to Montreal theatres on Oct.14. It will be playing at Cinema Du Parc and the AMC in limited release. 

Grade: A (4.5/5)

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