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New Release Review - AMERICAN HONEY

A troubled teen hits the road with a group of young magazine subscription sellers.






Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Andrea Arnold

Starring: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough, McCaul Lombardi, Arielle Holmes



Star's journey from shy, awkward teen to an earth mother who seems to exert a supernatural power over nature (Sasha Lane's interaction with a bear will likely be the standout image of 2016) unspools like an adaptation of some forgotten ancient myth. Go see American Honey, and hear her roar.



Type 'American' into the search box on IMDB.com and you'll find the adjective employed as a prefix in the titles of close to 100 films. The list includes some very good movies, but even the best ones use the adjective as a cheap marketing tool; there's nothing particularly American about narcissistic brokers (American Psycho), horny teenage boys (American Pie) or mid-life crises (American Beauty).

British writer-director Andrea Arnold's first foray into US filmmaking justifies its geographical prefix. Sure, its American protagonists, a group of troubled working class kids, wouldn't be out of place on a council estate in London or Glasgow, but the size of their country gives them one big advantage over their British counterparts - opportunity, or at least the illusion thereof. America's endless roads offer the luxury of never having to arrive at a destination you wish to avoid.


Texan teenager Star (newcomer Sasha Lane) finds such illusion of opportunity when a van full of raucous youngsters pulls into her little corner of America's barely beating heartland. She instantly falls for the dubious but undeniable charm of Jake (Shia LaBeouf), the self-entitled "power agent" of a gang of magazine subscription sellers. Ditching her abusive, drunken father and leaving her younger siblings in the involuntary care of her estranged mother, Star takes off on a journey across the western US, attempting to sell a product as unwanted as the badly tattooed problem children flogging it.

Arnold has a considerable eye for fresh female talent, having mined standout performances from a then unknown Kate Dickie in Red Road and the amateur Kate Dickie (who sadly never got the career her talent suggested) in Fish Tank. Her latest discovery, Sasha Lane, delivers a simply astonishing debut performance. She's a naturally gifted performer, taking to cinematic acting with an ease that often eludes more conventionally trained young stars. We always know what her Star is thinking and feeling, and often they're highly complex and contradictory thoughts and emotions. Arnold, undoubtedly the most talented woman directing films today, understands cinema too, never asking her leading lady to tell us how she's feeling, allowing her to show us instead. Were 2016 not the year that introduced us to Scott Chambers (Chicken), Suzu Hirose (Our Little Sister) and Lauren McQueen (The Violators), I could safely say Lane is the year's definitive breakout star.


The much derided LaBeouf gives the performance of his career here, playing a character who is essentially a scuzzball, perhaps even a paedophile. As responsible grownups, we don't want Star anywhere near his Jake, but LaBeouf's charisma is so overwhelming, we fully understand why a teenage girl might find him intoxicating.

As screen couples go, this white trash pairing is one of the most believable. Lane and LaBeouf really sell the idea that these two broken souls are besotted by one another, and their grubbily realistic sex scenes have all the heat of Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie's infamous "did they or didn't they?" love-making in Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now.


Star's journey from shy, awkward teen to an earth mother who seems to exert a supernatural power over nature (Lane's interaction with a bear will likely be the standout image of 2016) unspools like an adaptation of some forgotten ancient myth. But Star is no Goddess, just an earthly young girl trying to find her place in a world that's turned its back on her, making mistakes along the way but coming out the other side a stronger person, a woman. Go see American Honey, and hear her roar.

American Honey is in cinemas October 14th.







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