British writer and director Andrea Arnold takes her social-realist style of filmmaking across to ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ for her latest feature, an unorthodox coming-of-age road movie entitled American Honey. Newcomer actress Sasha Lane takes the leading role as Star, a teenager who, when we meet her, is foraging through a dumpster with the help of two children that she looks after. Desperate to escape her squalid standard of living and the abuse she suffers at the hands of the man she shares a home with, she looks for a way out. At a supermarket car park, she meets charismatic salesman Jake (Shia LaBeouf), who is part of a travelling crew that sells magazine subscriptions door-to-door. He pitches the trip as a ‘business opportunity’ and Star agrees to join them, taking to the open road on a journey of self-discovery across the Midwestern landscape.
The look and feel of this film is very different to most cinema experiences, the camera carefully observing and examining the characters throughout a narrative which has an incredibly naturalistic and almost documentarian quality to it. It is shot with a 4:3 aspect ratio which lends the film a microcosmic intimacy, reflecting the cult-like closeness in the mag crew’s minivan despite the sprawling nature of their libertarian lifestyle. The soundtrack is sublime and really helps to highlight the camaraderie amongst the gang as they sing along to hip-hop tracks like they are tribal chants. An early scene establishes the youthful tone when Calvin Harris and Rihanna’s dance anthem We Found Love blares as Star forms an instant bond with Jake when their glances meet across a sea of Kmart checkouts.
Aside from LaBeouf and Riley Keough, who brilliantly portrays the merciless crew manager Krystal, the cast is full of non-professional first-time performers which assists the authentic style the film aims to achieve. The interactions between the misfit sales squad are genuine and pure, not dissimilar to the type of raw dialogue heard in early Shane Meadows’ pictures. This makes their unusual situation entirely believable. Despite the obvious contrast in their acting backgrounds, Lane and LaBeouf strike up a vibrant connection, as their whirlwind relationship hurtles along the highways with stimulating, unpredictable energy.
Andrea Arnold discovered breakout actress Sasha Lane as she sunbathed on a Floridian beach during spring break, recognising her star quality from afar and showcasing this on-screen. Lane’s magnificent presence is a revelation, and is a perfect match for the performance given by the controversial Shia LaBeouf, who is arguably at his career-best as rat-tailed Jake. As the star-crossed pair attempt to find love in a hopeless place, the story ethereally explores themes of youth culture and capitalism through its glorious lens-flared aesthetic. American Honey is a seductive, compelling ride that you won’t forget in a hurry.
See the trailer: