American Honey is a long road trip among the disenfranchised and forgotten world of cast-off teenagers. A group of teens with no one to care take off in search of adventure while selling magazine subscriptions.
Do people actually go door to door selling magazine subscriptions anymore? These kids do.
Star (Sasha Lane) leaves her abusive father and her nowhere life when she runs into the dynamic Jake (Shia LaBeouf) in a parking lot and he offers her a job selling magazines in Kansas.
Star has two younger siblings that she cares for by dumpster diving. She has a mother who wants nothing to do with her three children. Star leaves her two siblings with her mother anyway.
Star has a soft spot for children and animals. We see this again and again in American Honey. She rescues insects trapped in a house. She buys groceries for kids with nothing in the house to eat.
The magazine crew is a diverse collection of rejects. They travel crammed in a white van, sharing drugs, booze, and music. Everyone in the crew is wild and careless, drugged up and drunk. The only real communication they have is through music. There’s not a lot of soul baring among this group. They aren’t sharing, they’re escaping.
The boss is Krystal (Riley Keough), who collects money from the subscription orders each evening and pays for cheap motel rooms with it. She often threatens to leave Star by the side of the road because she isn’t bringing in enough magazine subscriptions.
Jake is the best salesman and is put in charge of training Star. She doesn’t like the way he lies to get sales.
When left on her own to do sales, Star is likely to run off with strange men. It’s remarkable that she doesn’t get raped. And it’s amazing that a girl whose father abused her is willing to do this. Or maybe it’s inevitable.
A sincere romance between Star and Jake develops. Even though the sex scenes are pretty explicit, their love felt tender and sweet. Star’s instinct for running off with truck drivers or convertibles full of men in Stetsons in order to sell magazines makes Jake jealous. She, on the other hand, is sure Jake is Krystal’s boy.
They drive from rich suburbs to hard-scrabble neighborhoods to oil fields to truck stops in order to find customers. The camera focuses on insects, puddles of mud, out-of-focus weeds swaying in the early morning sun and gummy bears stuck like jewels to the van windows. When the players run, the camera runs bouncing beside them. Bodies jostle in the van and the camera jostles with them.
Long periods of listless driving were interspersed with explosive dancing, fireworks, teenaged hijinks, and lots of walking around neighborhoods. The film was almost 3 hours long.
At times I wondered, do we really need 30 seconds of a spider crawling among dirty dishes, or is it necessary to watch someone load yet another bong? But I began to see all that tedium, all that trivia, as part of being inside the minds of the mag crew kids. It was as much a part of their experience as them singing along in the van to rap songs or Lady Antebellum’s “American Honey.”
The was no resolution to the story. There was no character growth and no one seemed headed anywhere. We went with them on a part of their youth-filled wild ride. If there is any optimism about a future for any of the characters it is Star. She wants a trailer of her own and lots of kids. She has dreams and a moral sense.
American Honey was Sasha Lane’s first role. Most of the other characters were non-professional or unknown actors as well. Sasha Lane has a solid acting career ahead of her. She is mesmerizing in front of a camera. Since American Honey came out in 2016, she’s been snapped up by 6 different productions that come out later in 2017 and 2018.
American Honey was written and directed by Andrea Arnold, a British director with both BAFTAs and an Oscar to her credit. A lot of the dialog was improvised. It’s available on iTunes and Amazon Video.