This is a film about a class we don’t often see in movies but are all too aware exists behind the shiny images of the American dream.
American Honey follows a group of young people on the road. A classic road-trip you might think, but the film rejects the predictable beginning, middle and end. We first meet its focus, Star (newcomer Sasha Lane), dumpster diving, scoring a plastic wrapped chicken, which she tosses to the kids with her. We are left wondering who they are. All we see is Star’s existence in a grimy home and grubby town dragged down by poverty.
When Jake (Shia LaBeouf) and his crew turn up at a highway supermarket, the crusty Casanova seduces Star by dancing to Rhianna’s “We Found Love” belting out on the shop’s tannoy. Jake and his mismatched gang drive around the country selling magazine subscriptions. Star is offered the chance to break free – hope and adventure through work and travel.
They earn just enough to get by, stay on the road and keep on partying. Director Andrea Arnold was inspired to write the film after reading a New York Times article on the real-life travelling magazine crews and their exploitation.
The film depicts the young sales people pushing their subscriptions on good Christian women in affluent neighbourhoods and to lonely drivers in middle-of-nowhere truck stops. In one scene Star lands a big sale after three cowboys – dressed in white outfits complete with Stetsons – pick her up. You’re left wondering who’s exploiting who.
The troupe is headed by Krystal (Riley Keough) who assigns them their work and collects their earnings. She has hard and fast rules. Those with the least earnings each week must go head to head in a battle.
Arnold shows a refreshing almost unnoticeable ability to portray queer kids’ place among the wider working classes. Without going into anybody’s back story you get the sense that they’re all there to move away from something, without any real notion of what they’re moving towards.
In this way the film sucks you into the present, enjoying the ride. The soundtrack is punctuated by country love songs contrasting with trap music, an eclectic mix that doesn’t sound out of place and was heavily influenced by the cast’s own suggestions. In the spontaneous sing-a-longs in the van and the dancing in the parking lot, you see why this music speaks to these outcasts.
American Honey reminds us that wherever we’re coming from, and wherever we hope to go, the road on which we’re living defines our experience. We see in their journey together that, despite the odds being stacked against them, they do what they’ve got to do, they’re in it together and they make what fun they can along the way.