American Honey review: a star-making performance from Sasha Lane
Film review: American Honey

Matthew Turner delivers his verdict on Andrea Arnold's American Honey, starring Sasha Lane and Shia LaBeouf

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Andrea Arnold’s drama about an American teenage girl who runs away from home and joins a group of hedonists who make a living selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door

Director: Andrea Arnold
Starring: 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
Genre: Drama
Country: USA
Release date: October 14, 2016
Cert: 15
Running time: 164 mins

A transatlantic companion piece, of sorts, to British director Andrea Arnold’s brilliant 2009 coming-of-ager Fish Tank, American Honey is part road movie, part rites-of-passage drama and part portrait of down-at-heel middle America.

As she demonstrated with Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank, Arnold has an impeccable track record when it comes to casting magnetic newcomers and so it proves again here, with a star-making performance from Sasha Lane at the centre of the film.

Conventionally speaking, there’s very little plot.

Lane plays 18 year-old Star, who’s first introduced dumpster-diving with two young children we assume are her step-siblings.

After a chance encounter with charismatic Jake (Shia LaBeouf) in a Wal-Mart parking lot, Star dumps the kids with their mother and leaves behind a distinctly unsavoury domestic situation in order to join Jake and his team of hedonistic drop-outs as they travel middle America selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door.

However, Star’s reciprocated crush on Jake doesn’t exactly endear her to his whip-cracking boss, Krystal (Riley Keough), especially when his sales start to drop as a result of their dalliance.

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The scenes never play out quite the way you expect

Lane is terrific as Star, exuding a compelling combination of a seemingly hard edge (clearly borne of experience) and a touching vulnerability, so that we’re desperate for nothing bad to happen to her when she ventures off on some plainly ill-advised money-making excursions (joining three older men at a barbecue or getting a lift with a truck driver).

She also sparks palpable chemistry with LeBeouf, who, in turn, responds with one of his best performances to date, particularly when we see the cracks in his charming facade.

There’s very little actual plot to speak of – instead, the script presents Star’s day-to-day life on the road, the repetitiveness of which perhaps explains why she occasionally heads off on little side-adventures.

Arnold ensures that each of these sequences crackles with tension, though one of the film’s strengths is that the scenes never play out quite the way you expect.

Moments of real beauty in the middle of nowhere

Working with her regular cinematographer Robbie Ryan, Arnold’s cameras keep close focus on Star throughout, creating a powerfully intimate atmosphere (sometimes too intimate – you can almost smell the interior of the van the group travel in) that has a strongly immersive effect.

Similarly, Arnold and Ryan unearth moments of real beauty in the sun-baked middle-of-nowhere landscapes, with striking use of red, white and blue throughout.

In addition, the experience of the film is further heightened by a smartly chosen, seemingly continuous soundtrack that Arnold uses to memorable effect, most notably during a sing-along to Lady Antebellum’s title track.

Worth seeing?

Beautifully shot and superbly directed, this is a lyrical, intimate and absorbing drama with a star-making performance from Sasha Lane. Highly recommended.

American Honey is in UK cinemas from October 14.