Movie Review: “American Honey” is Definitely American, Anything but Sweet

“American Honey,” Andrea Arnold’s story of an abused teenager turned traveling magazine saleswoman, was, unfortunately, not nominated. But it should have been, so here we are.

It stars an unknown by the name of Sasha Lane and (get this) Shia LaBeouf. It won the jury prize at Cannes (essentially third place), and has generated Oscar buzz since its release. There must be something special about this film, and there are actually a couple things.

One is the fact that LaBeouf turns in an incredible performance, one that’s nomination worthy at the very least. He plays the top magazine seller, and he’s tasked with training the new girl.

This leads me to the film’s other special characteristic: the fact that Sasha Lane plays her character as an obscenely unlikable person but still manages (with help from the script) to create a deep empathy for her character, an empathy that doesn’t rely on the hardships seen at the beginning of the film, but instead on the character’s choices, wants, and reactions, even if the audience disagrees with them, which they usually will.

“American Honey” is not a movie for audiences to like; it doesn’t have characters for the audience to like. Despite a couple of beautiful shots, it’s not even a movie for audiences to even appreciate visually. There are moments in the relatively grounded plot that aren’t even slightly believable.

Fortunately, the performances are strong enough to overcome this. Even the bit players are impressive. Honestly, I’m not sure all of them were acting; they feel like people you’ve seen and know, which is a feat.

The film also subverts the audience’s expectations of where situations are going. What looks like the road to pitch black drama always ends up somewhere different, somewhere weirder than expected. That’s a good way to portray America, especially in such a surreal time.

This is a flawed movie, and, at a 2 hour and 45 minute length, there’s plenty of time for flaws. That doesn’t mean it’s not good. In fact, it’s better than good. It’s worth watching, but you probably won’t want to watch it again (P.S. The cinematography is overrated and crazy shaky).