What immediately attracted me to Andrea Arnold’s American Honey was that she works with an ensemble cast mostly of non-actors. Hence the interaction and actual words of the characters drive the story rather a prescribed script. My kind of filmmaking! My own films Sweet Bananas and Surviva and Sheila Paige’s Women Happy Time Commune rely on this kind of interaction of the characters who are actually real people, a style initially influenced by Warhol.
Star, played by newcomer Sasha Lane was found by Arnold as she scoured music events and beach gatherings of the young seeking possible ‘actors’. Fed up with her depressing family home-life, Star attaches herself to a band of traveling young magazine subscription salespeople. Packed in a van, they travel town-to-town oftentimes wreaking havoc along the way. Star falls for the best magazine salesperson, Jake (Shia LaBeouf). But the sex is short lived as Jake plays with her inexperience – both in magazine sales and in relationships.
I had no idea the film was 2 hours and 43 minutes when I scheduled it for a microcinema. I need not have worried. Every eye in the audience was glued to every frame of the gorgeously shot film. Andrea Arnold has worked with the cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, before. His camera keeps a close frame around Star, while simultaneously capturing prairie sunsets and a profusion of moths and other insects that gravitate around Star. Gently hugged by the camera’s frame, even protected, Star’s bruised relationship fades as her dreamy, hopeful gaze shines through scenes of privilege and poverty. The interior shots from inside the van where the ensemble gathers on numerous occasions are stellar. The rich cacophony of tight shots show Star as she gets to know her fellow salespeople. Through Star’s eyes we see play, drama, evolving relationships, introspection and wanderlust as she gazes out the window as the outside world whizzes by.
Despite the film’s length, the story is subtle and richly woven, leaving you lingering as to what actually really happened, yet satisfied. In the end, we see Star confident in her own abilities to make friends and sales as she once again confidently climbs back into the van with her fellow travelers.
American Honey is distributed by A24 Films. The film is available to stream on Amazon Prime, Fandango, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, and YouTube. Find out more about Andrea Arnold on IMDb and Wikipedia.
Ariel Dougherty, a filmmaker and co-founder of Women Make Movies, has fifty years of experience teaching, producing, curating, mentoring, advocating and writing about feminist cinema. Image is of her as anchor on her public access show, 1988-1992, CULTURAL ECOLOGY/DEMOCRACY. Find out more on Scribd.