Director: Andrea Arnold
Stars: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf
3 (out of 5) Globes
Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey” has moments of sublime transcendence. It also has moments where sledgehammer meets cranium. It’s a big movie — some 162 minutes — and big enough for us to suggest something weird: Perhaps a movie this size can contain good and bad, profound and obvious, a thrilling newcomer and Shia LaBeouf with a hideous eyebrow ring and braided rat tail. It’s imperfect, just like its teenage hero. Both character and movie make dumb mistakes. They’re both unformed. And they both build themselves into a kind of shape before our eyes. That’s what’s thrilling about it.
What’s never in doubt is the talents of its star. Sasha Lane — whom the English filmmaker Arnold (“Fish Tank,” “Wuthering Heights”) discovered on a Florida beach during Spring Break — is a natural onscreen, at once fiery and vulnerable. We’re never sure which extreme will take over. But we’re not surprised when Star, her character’s on-the-nose name, ditches her miserable, go-nowhere, Middle America digs to join up with a roving gang of runaway youngs. Dirty yet happy, prone to sing the n-words in rap songs even if they’re white, they tour the country in a dilapidated bus, selling magazine subscriptions. Yes, they know no one reads magazines anymore. They also know to guilt-trip and lie to get signatures and cash. Then they pile into motel rooms and start again. At least they’re free.
Of course, they’re not. They’re also being scammed. That they’re basically indentured servants — and that this rinky-dink operation is a metaphor for the illusion of freedom that most Americans think is real — is one of the few ideas “American Honey” doesn’t cram down the throat, lest you didn’t get it. When Arnold’s film is obvious, she usually goes with small and, frankly, dumb symbolism. The gang’s fascistic boss, played by Riley Keough, at one points wears a Confederate flag bikini. Late in, Star has an intense stare-down with a bear. What do these mean? Something. Maybe nothing.