A road film through the United States of America that pretty much sums up its under-explored counterculture. Centred around a group of edgy hippies on a magazine subscription sale, the film attempts to project their aspirations, adventures, sentiments and veiled dreams. The road trip ain’t one through those plush states which Hollywood is happy to exhibit otherwise. Shot alongside the midwestern states, American Honey doesn’t shy away from their not-so-glitzy ‘state’ of existence. These are the folks that, fortunately or unfortunately, saw potential in Donald Trump’s ability to spread America’s greatness to their neglected corners. Wait, the film is nothing about American economy and politics but this striking backdrop helps us endure the film’s tiring run-time.
Shot in a style reminiscent of one of those well-produced documentaries, American Honey is about Star (a raw but terrific Sasha Lane) and her coming to terms her anonymous group, life and the randomness in both. She is careless but has somehow her conscience in place. With the group, she discovers parties, drugs, sex, greed, money and freedom. She eventually learns to look back at the previous day and move on with zero regrets, no attachments.
Writer-director Andrea Arnold decides not to eject every drop of compassion and normalcy from Star, thus making her easy to connect to. Check out the sequence where she stumbles upon an impoverished family with parents dozed out on drugs. The sprightly children are yet to figure out misery behind this mayhem. A disturbed Star reaches back with enough food to feed them. There is immense power in the way her struggles and self-doubts are etched by the director. Her innocence has an extra layer of volatility. Her relationship with Jake (Shia LaBeouf) is again fierce and unpredictable.
Cinematographer Robbie Ryan certainly knows where to us his handheld camera movements and where to let the frames stay. One of the most captivating works of the year, it is the camera and the soundtrack that elevate the film further. Both departments successfully capture the culture (or the lack of it), atmosphere and also the strange bond shared by the group.
With American Honey, Andrea Arnold doesn’t give her audience a chance to judge the states’ counterculture. It tries to mirror the concept through an open, versatile lens with the moving climax allowing you to explore their inner self like never before. Any shortcomings? The length, for sure. The film tides through tiring stretches of repetitive moments, few of which do not add much to the lot. If the runtime is to trimmed down by about 20-minutes, there’s no stopping for American Honey in the home video market.
The film was screened at 47th International Film Festival of India, Goa (IFFI) under ‘Cinema of The World’ category.