Shia LaBeouf, Sasha Lane
“AMERICAN HONEY” My rating: B
163 minutes | MPAA rating: R
Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey” is about being young, horny, and blessedly free of what adults view as “normal life.”
This near-plotless road trip across the Heartland (including a long sequence shot in Kansas City) is all about the journey, not the destination. Arnold flirts with self-indulgence (some will say she positively wallows in it), but offers a haunting portrait of disaffected youth while surveying the vast emptiness (physical, moral, intellectual) that makes up so much of modern America.
We first encounter 18-year-old Star (newcomer Sasha Lane) somewhere just off the interstate in shit-kicker Oklahoma. She and two young children (her siblings? Perhaps the offspring of her redneck boyfriend?) are dumpster diving for lunch. They appear to be old hands at scrounging provisions.
But Star’s world is about to change. At the local K-Mart she encounters a crew of young people behaving like a bunch of good-natured rowdies. She’s particularly intrigued by their leader, Jake (Shia LaBeouf), a charismatic guy whose conservative shirt and slacks are in stark contrast to his dangling rattail and bristly chin.
Oozing sly seduction, Jake explains that his party-hearty entourage sell magazine subscriptions door to door. Angel is welcome to join them.
The possibility of romance with Jake and the chance to leave her crummy life behind provide an irresistible temptation.
Not that her new world is all spliffs and cognac.
Jake answers to Crystal (Riley Keogh, Elvis Presley’s granddaughter), the owner of the operation. A decade older than her teen crew members, Crystal sports the come-hither fashion sense and hardass authority of a whorehouse madam (“Show me you can do it or I’ll leave you on the side of the road”).
She’s a steel fist in a velvet glove kind of manager — she provides meals, cheap motel lodging, weed and booze for her tribe of misfits, most of whom are running away from bad homes. She picks the neighborhoods they’re going to hit, sets sales quotas and pockets the money (whether the operation actually sells magazine subscriptions or just scams customers out of their cash is never explained).
While the youngsters are packed like sardines into a minivan, Crystal scouts ahead in her shiny white convertible — usually with Jake in the passenger seat. It soon dawns on Angel that Jake is Crystal’s kept man…which only makes him sexier in her eyes.
Much of “American Honey” is devoted to simply observing how Angel’s new friends behave. They’re a rambunctious bunch, always a bit stoned and ever ready to roughhouse or party down around a camp fire. Arnold has cast the film with non-actors, and they radiate uncontrollable energy. So unforced and spontaneous are these kids that they rub off even on the cast’s few professional actors, who eschew anything like conventional performance mannerisms.
There’s a marvelous sequence shot in Mission Hills (“Rich motherfuckers,” observes Jake. “We’re hopin’ to do very well today.”) in which Jake and Angel, posing as brother and sister, charm their way into the home of an uptight suburban mom (Laura Kirk).
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