director Andrea Arnold
Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is dauntingly long. Star Sasha Lane, picked out from a crowd at a Florida beach, is striking and solid as Star, a young woman who takes up with a door-to-door magazine-selling crew. The ragtag young people she works and travels with are like herself, also picked out by Arnold from places across America as she scouted and researched the film. They have that natural bearing of actual kids, typical of nonprofessional actors.
The camaraderie that Arnold depicts in the close quarters of these teens and twentysomethings goofing around, singing, dancing, smoking pot is not as troubled as you might think. In fact, in a way, it seems like they’re having pretty good time, not being exploited by a mysterious overseeing entity or a toughened crew leader. That Lane is the only person of color on the crew seemed odd.
Strange to say, but while I kind of enjoyed it while I was watching it, it’s been sitting weird with me ever since. I was brought to mind of Lars Von Trier’s American movies. Von Trier of course never came to America and so his films are entirely constructs of his imagined America. They get a lot of stuff very weird and very wrong but that doesn’t seem to be the point.
Arnold is a Brit who filmed American Honey stateside, so doesn’t have the same complete outside view, but her choice of the title from a 2010 Lady Antebellum song strikes me as an example of this “doesn’t feel right” thing for the film. Would kids from all over America know that song well enough to sing it together like an anthem? Does that song speak to this milieu? My gut tells me no, but I am sure I could be wrong.
Something tells me that these crews may have some good times and provide a nice peer group for some young and disenfranchised, but that there is doubtlessly darker stuff afoot that what happens in Arnold’s film.
I don’t know.