American Honey, review: ‘Unique, extraordinary and aimless, yet driven’

08:00 12 October 2016

Sasha Lane in American Honey. Picture: Universal Pictures

Sasha Lane in American Honey. Picture: Universal Pictures


Shia LaBeouf stars in a film about the vast open spaces of America shot in the boxy 4:3 ratio. There’s nothing straightforward here.

In American cinema, everything becomes a road movie eventually. Andrea Arnold’s most acclaimed British film, Fish Tank, was about the life of an underclass girl stuck on an Essex council estate, a poetic take on the kitchen sink drama. In America that kitchen sink is on wheels and has miles of empty road ahead of it.

Having scavenged a chicken from the bins, Star (Sasha Lane) takes a shine to Shia LaBeouf in a supermarket carpark. He lures her away to join a ragtag collection of tattooed, dreadlocked, pierced youth, crossing the country in a camper van, drinking, fighting, getting high, listening to rap music and… selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door. Apparently such magazine crews are a phenomena in the States but it seems like an odd business model.

It has struck upon a perverse set up, a film about the vast open spaces of America shot in the boxy 4:3 ratio. There’s nothing straightforward here. It has all the elements to be a fierce condemnation of heartless free enterprise, but it never gets angry. Generally people behave a little better than you’d expect they would in a normal drama. Using her now standard methods – casting people she found in the street in main roles alongside established actors; lots of handheld camera work and the use of natural light to create images that make mundane reality seem magical – Arnold has created a film that is aimless, yet driven.

American Honey is unique and, in some ways, extraordinary; by the end of its epic running time you may not know exactly what it was, and you may not particularly have liked it, but you will know you have been through something.

Rating: 3/5 stars


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