American Honey: The Neglected Side of the American Dream
The new film American Honey, written and directed by Andrea Arnold which screened as part of Fantastic Fest, is a riveting take on what life if like for poorly parented teenagers in America’s underclass.
The film follows Star (Sasha Lane) as she is de facto parenting two small half-siblings as best she can: diving into a dumpster to get them food, trying to keep them from getting run over as they cross the street. Her stepfather exhibits the kind of inappropriate behaviors that often lead to women to long-term therapy once they’ve escaped that sort of situation. Her mother is dead.
Star soon meets the professionally charming Jake (Shia LaBeouf) who promises to take Star away from her current life. Because of him she and joins a near-cult, traveling the suburbs of America as part of a rootless and disposable magazine crew. “Is there anyone at home who is going to miss you?” was one of the few questions asked of Star when she got the traveling gig.
Soon Star is seeing America from the backset of a van, smoking whatever and drinking cheap alcohol with her rotating cast of new magazine friends, walking the tidy suburbs of America and doing her best to make a better life for herself, even if her attraction to Jake maybe isn’t the best path to a brighter future. Especially as her less than ethical boss Krystal (Riley Keough) has an, err, arrangement with Jake.
Seeing lead actress Sasha Lane in this role is like seeing a young Sophia Loren in one of her early Italian films. She’s natural and smoldering in the hardscrabble ruins of what was once prosperity.
One of the touching scenes of the film is when Star is out selling magazines in a poor area and meets kids who remind her of the kids she was caring for before she left home. Star has a kind heart and they have an empty refrigerator and the kind of life that’s ripe for Child Protective Services to step in. Star does what she can.
American Honey doesn’t just tell the story of a teenager with few prospects, it makes sure to set her in a place where we notice the disparity between her life and the kids in the comfortable suburbs she visits. It’s a tale of the growing class division in America and the creeping horror that so many people are experiencing, and the dreams that people are willing to latch onto when there is too much month at the end of the money, too many mouths to feed, and too much meth in the momma.
Having loved Katherine Dunn’s book 1989 Attic about her time on a magazine crew, I couldn’t help wondering if this film was based on that book. It doesn’t seem to be, but it’s a book you might want to read if you enjoy this movie. Or you might want to see this movie if you enjoyed that book.
This is Lane’s first film, and she was discovered while on vacation.