Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey”

“American Honey” first made its debut screening at The Cannes 2016 was the most acclaimed film of the year. It also won the Jury Prize during this festival. Andrea Arnold who previously won an Academy for her short film “Wasp” and her previous two feature films “Fish Tank” and “Red Road” winning heavy accolades, there is already a pre-set expectation from the movie.

The closing song of “American Honey” (Lady Antebellum’s country song with the same title), which by the time you reach there would have realized, is a celebration. The whole movie is a celebration. A bunch of coming-of-age youngsters spoilt for steady life choices chose to be on the road – celebrating the joy of being an adult and the opportunity to survive with the means just needed to meet their ends.

She grew up | On the side of the road | Where the church bell rings and strong love grows | 

She grew up good | She grew up slow | Like American Honey

The movie introduces us to Star (Sasha Lane) who collects food from a dumpster with two kids along with her. They pick the leftovers and wait for random cars to hitchhike. Dressed in worn out top and yellow shorts displaying her tattoos on the left shoulder and on the right thigh, with a cornrow hair design smokes cigarette without any thoughts about the two kids next to her. This sets out the tone for what to expect from the movie. A rough, careless, independent youngster.

 Minutes later we are introduced to Jake (Shia LaBeouf) and his bunch of youngster who starts dancing with the least provocation of music beats from the mall. Star falls for him, gets attracted to his and the youth’s lifestyle. The offer to join the gang follows and in no time, we find Star, referred to as New Girl and introduced to the arrogant head of this youngster Krystal (Riley Keough).

So, what does this bunch of youngsters do?

They travel on road from places to places, from cities to cities to pick a locality so that they can go and sell magazines. Yes, magazines. Magazines about porn, vehicles, boats, religion and just about anything that could be sold.

“Do people buy these anymore? Fuck No”

The course of action is simple. Sell Magazines, keep a share of it, and the rest will be used to find motels, food, and just celebrate the life. It seems like a cool plan that everyone wishes to have- just live on the go.

But, Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey” is not an aspirational movie. It doesn’t preach things; it doesn’t ask everyone to reflect on their lives to address “what you want vs. what you do” question. At least not on the face of it. As the movie progresses, we explore Mid-West of America from the eyes of Star who is exposed to this part of the world for the first time. The suburban houses, extended patches of greenery, wide open parking lots, the tall corporate buildings and the poorer communities, it is a documentation of diverse lifestyles of America.

The movie is all about movement and freedom. The desire and expectation to be free, to do what you love but it all boils down to be able to achieve what you can. The carelessness choice is reflected only on the lifestyles and once they got into the business (whatever source it may be), they are stubborn about it. Andrea Arnold overall writes a visual tribute to the present day American youth.

Shot in 4:3 ratio as if to indicate the exposure of world only through the limited scope of Star’s eyes, the movie is colorful. There are bright colors everywhere, even in the nights, the fire charms with exuberance. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan deserves special accolades for that. He kept the life alive in the movie as the camera never steadies itself- not even during conversations. The eyes of Star become the lens – they keep looking for something more always.

The other brilliant contribution comes from Clarence B. Hutchinson and Earworm Music. The songs were chosen perfectly for the occasion. There is music playing for almost the entire stretch of the movie – through radios, through the lyrics that the group sings. My personal favorite is the group’s motivation song. The word choices are simple and just enough to convey the message outright.

Overall, Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey” is a perfect visual tribute to the youngsters who just wants to celebrate the joy of freedom. It is a meditative exploration of the world from within but without any deep self-analysis quotes.


PG-13 |

Runtime: 162 Mins |

Direction- Screenplay: Andrea Arnold |

Cinematographer: Robbie Ryan |

Editor: Joe Bini |

Distribution: A24 |

Cast: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough


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