Thursday, July 18, 2024

Movie Review: “American Honey”


There’s no such thing as the “real America,” but if there was, the atmosphere of “American Honey” would be the popular conception of it: flatlands and suburbs, fast-food ubiquity, God on the bumper stickers, country on the stereos. The movie, directed by Andrea Arnold, is about young people that don’t fit into this paradigm, or anybody’s paradigm really, not least because they don’t know what “paradigm” means.

We first meet 18-year-old Star (Sasha Lane, making her astonishing screen debut) Dumpster-diving for dinner, with two younger children that may be siblings. They hitch their way back to a filthy, abusive household, but Star, and the movie itself, doesn’t dwell on the sordid details. After depositing the young ones with their delinquent mother, she steals away with Jake, a compelling older boy (Shia LaBeouf) she met earlier in the day in a supermarket parking lot.

Jake dresses, as he puts it, a little “Donald Trumpish,” but with funky hair and pierced eyebrows. He’s part of a caravan of wandering Millennials—escapees from suburbia, like Star—who sell magazines door-to-door for a living, under the watchful eye of their intimidating supervisor, Krystal (Riley Keough). They’re twice told that they are “far from home,” a statement that feels perpetually true.

“American Honey” is a communal heartland odyssey filled with music, sex and drugs, and it bristles with pointed observations about capitalism, income inequality and the American Dream for a generation that discourages dreaming. It’s populated by real bodies with real problems, buoyed by an equitable share, discomfort, humor and grace. Its best moments combine all three, as in Star’s forthright sales calls with a trio of rich, affable cowboys, an isolated trucker and an industrial worker.

Star is naïve, with a bounteous capacity for ill-informed decisions, but her inherent kindness is revealed whenever she saves a flailing insect from a pool or an interior window. Director Arnold, a British realist who finds documentary veracity in her sprawling fictions, punctuates moments with small, novelistic details that build character: the chipped polish on Star’s nails, the gummy bears stuck to the glass of the caravan’s window, the tag still dangling from the Confederate-flag underwear sported by Krystal.

The movie needs these moments of telling clarity, because its seeming directionless-ness can be grating. At two hours and 43 minutes, many of which are stocked with the teenage self-indulgences we expect from lesser filmmakers like Larry Clark and Harmony Korine, it exceeds our patience.

It’s a quintessential American journey nonetheless, a movie that will play poorly overseas, and perhaps here too—most moviegoers don’t want to accept its blinkered view of a lost generation nihilistically traversing flyover country. But “American Honey” always balances, with karmic intimacy, the drawbacks of Midwestern suburban culture with its kitschy joys. A silly moment early in the film—a choreographed dance the wayward youths perform to Rihanna’s “We Found Love”— takes on a deeper meeting as the journey continues from Kansas City to Cedar Rapids. It’s synthetic pop, but it’s hardly disposable: These refugees of society did find love in a hopeless place.

“American Honey” opens today in South Florida theaters, including Regal Shadowood 16 in Boca Raton and Muvico Parisian 20 in Boca Raton.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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