British filmmaker Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights) adopts the voyeuristic, cinema vérité style favoured by Larry Clark and Harmony Korine for this episodic road trip into the American heartland in the company of a group of impoverished youths selling magazine subscriptions to people who don’t want them or can’t afford them.
Shot in the tight 1.33 ratio and featuring a cast of mostly non-professionals, American Honey’s focus is 18-year-old Star (Sasha Lane), who joins the team after locking eyes with Jake (Shia LaBeouf) in a Walmart and forging an instant connection. It’s their fractious relationship that provides the dramatic impetus in lieu of a narrative.
Spring breaker Lane is a real find; her natural performance anchors the meandering proceedings, and her solo detours from the group’s set route provide the film’s best moments. Encounters with a group of ranchers, an oil field worker, and a truck driver make for compelling asides fraught with the potential for danger, which never materialises. But if things did go south, there’s no doubt she could handle whatever was thrown at her.
She can also handle Shia LaBeouf, who continues his newfound method-arthouse-phase following Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. He’s surprisingly good and far better suited to this type of film than Transformers – if only he could curtail his gonzo offscreen shenanigans, he might get more work.
What’s also surprising is that a Brit has made such an authentic slice of Americana. Languorous but captivating (and a tad overlong at 163 minutes), American Honey is raw and real; a breath of fresh Midwestern air after being suffocated by so many superheroes and special effects.
In cinemas: November 3, 2016
Starring: Sasha Lane, Shia LeBeouf, Riley Keough
Directed by: Andrea Arnold