American Honey : A Film Review

Director: Andrea Arnold. Cast: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough, Arielle Holmes, McCaul Lombardi, Will Patton, Bruce Gregory, Crystal Ice, Dakota Powers, Shawna Rae Moseley, Chris Wright. Duration : 162 min. Cert. 15.

Directed, written by Andrea Arnold. Camera (colour), Robbie Ryan; editor, Joe Bini.

Cast. Sasha Lane, Riley Keough, Shia LaBeouf, McCaul Lombardi, Arielle Holmes, Crystal B. Ice, Verronikah Ezell, Chad McKenzie Cox, Garry Howell, Kenneth Kory Tucker, Raymond Coalson, Isaiah Stone, Dakota Powers, Shawna Rae Mosely, Christopher David Wright.


Walmart Art piece.

From an eyes connect moment the song – dance throb Calvin Harris and Rihanna’s 2011 track “We Found Love (in a hopeless place)” sounding out in a cavernous Mid-West American Walmart places you in a love story evolutionary curve.  At the risk of immediately setting off cliche ridden, conceptual freefall idiotic drama, Director Andrea Arnold nonchalantly wraps up this splendid no holds barred uplifting music as the gateway to the oncoming love story.  It is a very adept intro heralding, as those into Electronic dance music (as I am) a fair helping of more dynamism and makes us hopeful of a soundtrack not likely to overwhelm the main body the story and movie.  This is a road movie of colourful concepts and motivations.  Colour dynamic is quite possibly down to Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s loose and sharp eyed connection with the Director Andrea’s targets she focused in on.

The set up

Director Andrea Arnold has formulated a storyboard belonging in the long tradition of road movies set in North America. She combines an analytical view of the pressures, context of choices available – or not – to children entering the outside world with a group fixed upon adventure in a crowd.  Taking inspiration from an article on door to door sales of magazine subscriptions, notionally attached to University education the gang (of mainly non-actors) here are lead by a the uncompromising Krystal played by Riley Keough. She seems to be pitched as a savvy young attractive slim symbolic cheerleader of this generations American Dream.  She is fond of wearing USA regalia pitching up in a Stars and Stripes bikini as an identikit.  Alongside her is of on boyfriend Jake played by Shia LaBoeuf whose mall recruitment brings our principle Star played by a thoroughly immersive, knowing and alert Sasha Lane to the roster of workers.  Star brings an abusive childhood where we first meet her in the mall in charge of very young siblings who she eventually leaves behind with her dysfunctional, self obsessed guardians.

Star is the everywoman

She also brings to this film a normalcy which might be lacking in the remainder of the ad-hoc crew.  In a new A5 pound land notebook (essential gear) I’ve scribbled down, Missouri, West Virginia, New Jersey, Florida, Nashville among the origins of the crew. Star is form Texas and now in middle America.  This is a film about the road trip as life. The discovery on the journey of – 1. Current state America. 2. Potential for dreams.  The soundtrack aforementioned kicks of the continued vibe, is part of the script in that it speaks much better at times than any interaction between the players might.  It conveys like many movies before it from … to music films on Kurt Cobain, Brian Wilson, Oasis, Amy Winehouse, the troubadour content of generations attaching themselves to various professors of Hamelin, spokespersons and pied pipers for their generation.  The dub and rap features alongside the Rhianna, Calvin Harris collaborative dance music pop with this generation also pursuing via. Lady Gaga, the Andy Warhol, Madonna trick artifice born into performance art after the fifties.  A Dadaesque sequencing of expressive youth.


Krystal’s US of A Methods (she is strikingly confident in her s/s bikini, her uniform and guard – a bit needy of identity?)

Here it happens in white mini bus with a attached low box closed trailer for their suitcases.  Krystal and Jake travel everywhere in their white open topped convertible. Krystal high fives and roll calls and sets strict rules – frequently broken – sex between crew happens often and the relationship between Jake and Krystal is open and this sets up a problem for Krystal.  Admonishment or keep the crew working and bringing in the money.  Advance to the goal – make money by lying connivance, shades of sexual favours in entrapment of punters? noises off, and a variety of areas are targeted. Very wealthy and authentic mid-America which is seldom depicted in this way.  The movement, road takes them into the huge heavily populated city of Kansas where a few Superman jokes are thrown in – a dog is in on the act.  Spot spotty.  Also the Motelsa re better stop overs.  Their is an arrangement of rooms booked by Kyrstal – “you’ve got to pay for all this shit.” – are usually three. Boy, Girl, Gender LGBT? and Krystals.  They keep to themselves except one encounter, with some black guys, musicians possibly, which had a nice vibe going is seldom repeated.  Krystal gets more tetchy and control freaky as the film dynamics appear as a team and the inherent sacrifices, places in the hierarchy evolve.  Some are along for the ride and adventure and do a days work and enjoy the side stuff such as a plentitude of weed.  How a certain companion doesn’t become an addict is anyone’s guess.


Love love, hate hate.

This is every generations hopes and dreams in a short dose.  It is also one of the songs of this generation and will be around for others as well I would think being a cultural staple.  Others including one chosen by a Christian beef trucker is a target song respected far and wide.  Talking of which the group splits up at each location in pairs and they go about their business and into this is felt some jeopardy creeps in because behind some doors lunatics live.  The first encounter the freshman team of Sky and Jake whose relationship is up close and central to the film is with a wealthy woman in charge of a no holds barred birthday sleepover at which the contrasts of American live’s infiltrate the statement projected by Director Andrea Arnold and it is a gloriously multi-faceted scene portraying greed avarice sexual tension polarity niavity and political bankruptcy.  It augers well for the forthcoming elections (not) with this diversity.

The central pairing and Krystal.

We only follow the one pairing. Who will win out in the chase for the dream? A conscious choice is made.  Firstly the Star/Jake/Krystal triangle is set up.  How will it unfold or erupt? What sacrifices are justified or made by each of them?  What are each of the three pursuing?  How do they see their future?  How do they relate to others?  How many roads can you travel before you find one that feels like you belong?  It is the question you could put out America and Americans as well as stopping of to discuss the effect on the world.  Director Andrea Arnold has an environmental message also as she explores this vast continent as a living organism.  Star’s name is an allusion to it, the road is a seldom seen view.  It is exploratory.  There is a core element of the crew going into an oil state where every hobo (one whose fortunes been made and didn’t want it after all?)  driver, worker, is possibly a millionaire and fortunes are made in 17 hour days with suburbs and families set up alongside.  Savvy Krystal points out their psychological profile acutely accurately as a piece of training advice of how to act and approach their target.  This happens, Krystals pep talk, advice, tactical nous, and notably a going into battle song which is as in war separates you from the projected enemy you are about to face and he are rip them off for as much as possible.

I spent an age trying to upload Director Andrea Arnold’s photo as a kind of insistence she is beautiful without the zany hair!  Her film on the other hand is zany chaotic beauty and a new testament to youth who need overcome previous generations greed and attempted ruination of this planet we all live on!

Conclusion ####4

It’s easy to say this film is overlong – as it is – at 2hrs 44mins – it is without question entirelybfeasible a condensed draft could have delivered in sharper detail the central themes, characterisations and left as many questions and answers as we needed to appreciate this contemporary take on a slice of American youth.  Director Andrea Arnold has seen it as an outsider and it’s generally been held as an honest and vivid colourful tapestry of choices faced by youth and of mid-American relentless pace and how it defines a country.  Jokes are made about the Kansas skyscrapers for example – whoa look at those huge buildings or something along those lines comes to mind –  because it fits the message, as a kind of alien invader, a time traveller looking out of a window at the cluster of buildings and wondering why and what they are for.  Indeed why does every enterprise have to have its own statement skyscraper and likewise which is your condominium?  How high up and isolated can you be.

The actual themes are for me delivered gently and as a free form of film making which you are asked or invited to take at whatever level and pace you see fit.  Nevertheless after seeing it the themes do weave together into a cohesive mural of realisation what it entailed.  It is as mentioned soundtracked with a more than mood setting environmental steer but a cohesive integrated part of the script.  An enlightened, heightened innovative way to work.  It is despite its scuzzy nests a very attractive beautifully, sensitively, modestly, evocative intelligent film and due to its length concentration may not be up to scratch making it viewable several times opening up new ‘vistas’ – a word lock arrived and that’s the best I can do!  It’s been a longish review! entirely well worth the admission ticket.  As for those kids born in America, some have grounds for asking for their admission money back. The three principals are extremely on their game with Sasha Lane never putting a foot wrong despite the emotionally complex parameters and Shia LaBoeuf becoming a very skilful actor portraying the serious, nerdy, sexual, moody, un-confident, confident niches this film puts him in. It augers well for him and hopefully further surprises are in store. ##News## just in !!! Shia LaBoeuf (30) and his longtime girlfriend and co-star in Nymphomaniac Mia Goth (22) born London, got married in Las Vegas in an Elvis themed wedding at the Viva Las Vegas just last week apparently. What can you say about Krystal, Riley Keough, consummate controlled, sublimely attractive and despite her forceful attitude she depicts the USA icon wannabe, stereotyped person at the head of the road drive.  Antlers, horns, cow bars all to the fore and she does it brilliantly and could easily be overlooked with the Stella performances of the other two which is not deserving.

John Graham

12 October 2016


On at QFT Belfast from Friday 14 to Thursday 27 October 2016 inc. and selected Cinemas.