American Honey Review – Engaging, Raw, A Millennial Road Trip

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American Honey, from A24 and British Film Institute, presents a raw look at midwestern American millennials, wake, booze and baker’s, living life on the edge, without thought hoping for one chance they bond on the road.

Directed and written by Andrea Arnold, American Honey stars Riley Keough, Shia Lebouf, and Sasha Lane, and also stars McCaul Lombardi, Arielle Holmes, Crystal Ice, Veronica Ezell, Chad Cox, Gary Howell, Kenneth Kory Tucker, Raymond Coalson, Isaiah Stone, Dakota Powers, Shawna Rae Moseley, Chris Wright and Kaylin Mally. Will Patton, Sam Williamson and Daran Shinn also star as the Cowboys.

American Honey opens with Star, played by Sasha Lane, digging through the dumpster in rural Oklahoma, behind the local grocery story for food, not simply for herself but food to feed a family of four. The two children with her she has assumed care of as their parents are part of the meth generation.

Hitchhiking, after she fills a backpack with food, a van drives by Jake, played by Shia Lebouf catches her eye and the two lock. They pull into the Walmart and not knowing really what she is doing Star is in the store looking watching the group of kids, her age, spending, freely.

Jake drops his phone and Star sees her opportunity. Soon he is pitching her on the merits of leaving this one stop sign town and coming with them. The kids, who he explains, go door to door, even in the technology age, and sell magazines subscriptions. They travel from state to state and, while not traditionally, work while seeing America.

After he tells her where they're staying she returns to fix dinner for her boyfriend and his sister’s kids. The right now of her relationship isn’t enough to hold her and after he hits the pipe, eats dinner and wants to finish the cycle, he ends up falling asleep. She gets the kids packed and slips out the window with the clothes on her back and a backpack.

It’s obvious Star is not going to leave the kids, she assumed a parental role in caring for them, she gathered food from the dumpster, she made sure they were clean, when the intersection of right now and the future showed up, before she took off she made sure the kids were safe.

Soon she is gainfully employed as a door to door magazine subscription specialist. Traveling the country with about fifteen others twenty something millennials, heavy tats, pot smoking, amnestied from the thoughts of tomorrow or any roadmap to the future. The kids are the here and now, today, generation.  

Soon Star and Jake are twenty something lovers, the no strings, no commitments generation still has some jealousy streaks. The idea, of course, is seduce Sasha into serious selling to please Jake, or keep him, or ignite whatever emotion takes to have her perform well.

Krystal, played by Riley Keough, the supervisor of this group, has unorthodox management ways and it motivates and works for the kids. She inspires them, challenges them, rewards them through heavy partying and effectively warns them when sales go down. The clash, of course, comes between Star, Jake and sales. After a while even Star learn how to put out the Krystal fire.

It is obvious as the film moves that Star has a real conscience, at times, usually when she is alone, she knows innately how to manage the pull on her heart and fixes when she can meet the need she will.

A single pivotal scene changes the entire perception of the film, prior I would say the film is an indictment on society and the lost generation, who have no boundaries, no internal warning system, taking excessive risks, filled with a need they find in urban primal beat from rap, the deep party culture, the kids are strangers in a strange land.

Then a song, American Honey, from the Country & Western trio Lady Antebellum is played and the entire van of kids, all previously unknown to each other, sing together and the change is palpable.

It goes from the booze, weed, wake and bake culture to the understanding they’re all looking for the same thing, a community, a sense of belonging and to be loved, a place of their own. The acting is flawless.

For those of us who squelch the call of the road, American Honey is a vicarious road trip. The road scenes are shot from inside the van. The audience sees the same scenery, the same cities pass by, watching the same highway as our millennials.

American Honey is the modern version of the 1960’s commune experience. The kids form this bond, a family, to them and they all in some way want the same dream: a home, a trailer as Star says, an acre of land and a home. The need to belong, to fill the ache of emptiness is the pursuit.

Riley Keough, the granddaughter of Elvis and Priscilla Presley  steps up and strips down as the tough talking self-described American Honey from the south. She is seen in teeny tiny bikini’s, chain smoking, partying. Her role as Krystal may be her most skillful and provocative performances to date.

Shia LaBeouf is very talented. I feel he is the Robert De Niro of his generation. He has great talent. Sasha Lane stars opposite him and she meets him with an equally strong performance. American Honey brings an ensemble troupe of talented actors who "hit that" each time almost effortlessly. I'm very impressed.

Not since Thelma and Louise or Easy Rider has a road film been so engaging.  At nearly three hours, American Honey is a full blown 20-something hip hop, weed smoking, boozing sex trip and it is absorbing, captivating, and impressive.

Nominated for the prestigious Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or, American Honey director and writer, Andrea Arnold walked away with the Jury Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury Special Mention.

American Honey is in theaters. See it.

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