In America, when you have nothing else to sell for a living, you can always sell yourself. Your enthusiasm, your wits, your company, your gumption? All of it can be sold.
What happens when one sells it may vary.
AMERICAN HONEY is about one young woman and her desire for anything resembling a way out. When we meet Star (Sasha Lane), she is dumpster-diving behind a K-Mart to try to take care of two small children. While inside the shop, she encounters a group of late-teen/early-twenties boys and girls that seem to be high on life. One of them – Jake (Shia LaBeouf) – approaches her and asks if she wants to come with them and earn money.
Soon after we discover that the children she is caring for aren’t hers, so after they are nudged back towards their birth mother, Star is off on the road in search of opportunity.
Officially, the group is making their cash peddling magazine subscriptions. Unofficially, they are hustling for cash any which-way they can get it, and kicking it up to the queen bee of the group, Krystal (Riley Keough).
The amazing thing about a film like AMERICAN HONEY is that it could very easily serve as the subject matter for a short film. Let us meet Star, let us meet “The Lost Children”, let us see their hustle for what it is, and be done with it. However, director Andrea Arnold does the very opposite – she makes this film so very big. It is loud, it is bright, it is long, and it is brash. By doing that, we get a deeper idea of just what these kids might see in the choices they’ve made and one-another. We also get a deeper idea of just what excites them about what they see on the road.
That decision comes at great risk, since it’s truly understandable that many people won’t want to spend much time – perhaps any time with these boys and girls. If they knocked on your door, or approached you in a parking lot looking to sell you something you don’t need, odds are you’d try to shrug them off and get on with your life.
However, by keeping us with the other side of that transaction; by showing us just what delights these people, what drives them, and what risks they face, Arnold changes our perspective. She makes us think harder about the lives we lead, and just what those lives represent to others.
At the end of the day, Andrea Arnold’s new film won’t be for everyone. From moment-to-moment it can be dangerous, claustrophobic, isolating, depressing, frustrating, duplicitous, and desperate…
…but then again, so too can America.