Content Note: sexualized abuse
Star (Sasha Lane) takes care of her siblings and has to fend off her stepfather’s abuse, if she can at all, so when she meets Jake (Shia LaBeouf) and he offers her a way out – joining him and a whole bus full of kids to drive around the country selling magazine subscriptions – Star jumps at the chance. Probably would have also jumped if there hadn’t been an instant connection between her and Jake, but that certainly helped her decision. But once they are on the road, things become a little more complicated than Star anticipated.
American Honey is a beautiful coming-of-age road movie with great lead performances, looking at a part of America that rarely gets much attention. I was absolutely captivated by it.
I had been hoping that American Honey would find its way into cinemas in Austria, but I had to literally wait for years until it did. As usual, even if women make acclaimed films, they have a hard time getting the films that come after it much attention. But it paid to wait because I did get the chance to see it on the big screen – and it is a film that should be seen on the big screen for sure.
The cinematography is stunning – switching between wide shots and staying close to Star in close-ups, it creates a sense of intimacy that makes Star both the center of the world and only a very small part of it, capturing how she must feel herself. The often very loud music that both expresses the character’s feelings and covers them up creates a sense of tension that works beautifully in sync with the cinematography.
Arnold pulls us into Star’s world with a frankness that shows both Star’s selfishness and her kindness, her sense of invincibility and her deep vulnerability, and has room for a scene where Star removes a tampon so she can have sex. Sasha Lane’s captivating performance and her chemistry with Shia LaBeouf – who gives us an equally compelling character – make all of that work. Without that, it wouldn’t have worked half as well.
Despite the long runtime of the film and the fact that the story moves in circles, I was enthralled and there wasn’t a single minute I would have wanted cut out of the film. In fact, I could have watched all of them longer.