Film Review: American Honey
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★★★☆☆When Star (Sasha Lane) meets Jake (Shia LaBouef) he proposes that she join him and his friends in their work as a travelling magazine sales crew, in Andrea Arnold's latest Cannes triumph. Their instant spark convinces her to abandon the broken and impoverished home life she leads in Kansas, and set out with the team. Under the watchful eye of the white trash queen bitch Krystal (Riley Keough), she travels the south and Midwest of America, selling subscriptions and experiencing a greater amount of life than she previously had. But as she pursues a relationship with Jake, her newfound freedom and family is placed in increasingly precarious situations. Star puts a key audience question to her co-worker early on, regarding the central conceit of the job that I imagine many will scoff at: ‘Do people actually buy magazines anymore?’. The delightfully self-aware response of ‘Fuck no!’ is an early point of revelation for director Andrea Arnold. Because these kids aren’t really selling magazines, they’re selling their own livelihood – convincing the wealthy middle-class of America that their present and future is worth investing in. For Jake and the crew, selling involves a fair amount of lying to the prospective buyers but remaining true to each other. For Star the opposite is true: by-and-large she’s more honest to the people she sells to, and interested in them personally. She uses the buyers’ interest in her as the way to get money out of them, and by convincingly returning that interest. One memorable moment sees Star accompanying a trucker for a few miles, and engaging him about his dreams, and what he wants, as much as he returns the favour for her. It’s a small, sweet scene that shows what it is about Star that makes her unique. And when Star comes across a home later in the film that’s not dissimilar from the one she abandoned, her reaction is even more profound. What a coup it was for Arnold to pluck Sasha Lane from a Spring Break beach. From her opening scene of dumpster diving to the final tranquil moments, Lane is a supernova. Who knows what the future holds for a newcomer like her, or if the naturalism shown here could ever be repeated in a film with an actual script – what matters is that Lane makes every single one of Star’s choices, no matter how seemingly contrary, compelling. So when she knowingly sabotages a sale with Jake, it feels organic, although it couldn’t be any less so. We need to talk about Shia. Whatever you think of his publicity stunts or “art” projects, he’s barely ever turned in a boring performance. Unlikeable, sure – I actually enjoy his arrogant dumbness in the Indiana Jones that-shall-not-be-named – but not dull. This works entirely in his favour as Jake, the embodiment of scuzzy bros everywhere. With his rat tail hair, charmingly manipulative selling strategies, and the wistful soul beneath it all who wants a simple life, he’s a modern archetype of youth, with that extra element of real depth. As confident and in control as he endeavours to be when training Star, he’s equally adrift and reckless when she starts running things her own way.
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