Director: Andrea Arnold
Cast: Sasha Lane, Riley Keough. Shia LaBeouf
Watch American Honey online in the UK: Netflix UK / BFI Player / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Andrea Arnold again confirms herself as one of Britain’s most interesting directors with this epic road trip across America. Sasha Lane stars as Star, a girl who finds herself tagging along with a bunch of teen magazine sellers to escape her day-to-day life. Led by Riley Keough’s Krystal and Shia LaBeouf’s Jake, they’re a ragtag group who have no homes or money and are happy to live one door knock at a time.
Rolling across the country over two hours, Arnold’s panoramic vista of society – people and new horizons hemmed in, as ever, by her academy-ratio frame – runs from the well-off to the hard-done-by. The journey stretches so far out that, like her characters, we shift from excitement to tedium. Arnold’s lyrical camerawork constantly embraces the rush of their American Dream, before subtly undermining it; one quietly breathtaking shot presents an expansive ocean, reflecting the skies above, until we realise we’re staring at a puddle, a dog asleep in it.
After her excellent lead in The Girlfriend Experience TV series, Riley impresses once more with her trashy yet mercurial businesswoman, while Shia LaBeouf recalls Marlon Brando with a turn that’s full of intense, brooding charisma. Between them, Lane is a luminous screen presence, her eyes wide open with the dreamy optimism of her name – one that puts her in direct opposition to the tacky name of her boss: Krystal.
Their love triangle emerges as the beating heart of the narrative (“You think you’re special? You know I pay Jake girl money? $100 every time he finds a girl?”) but this is a trip that skips messily along without worrying about plot points, our central romantic duo infatuated with each other as much as they are the idea of an unburdened life. No matter how criminal their behaviour, no consequences ever seem to surface – and underneath that fact lies the suspicion that it’s less because they’re living the dream and more because they’re so far off society’s radar.
Arnold has always been skilled at drawing out strong performances from actors and non-actors alike, but she emerges here as one of the best filmmakers around when it comes to music. The jukebox soundtrack effortlessly mixes with our group’s mood, from the titular track to a magical opening sequence, which sees two people make eye contact in a supermarket, accompanied by We Fell in Love in a Hopeless Place. The result is a road movie that makes you fall in and out of love with the road repeatedly. It’s a ride worth taking.
American Honey available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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