American Honey: Review (BFI London Film Festival)

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Dare I say that American Honey was my favourite film of the festival season? The cast are exceptional and Andrea Arnold’s lucid and poetic filmmaking charms us for 2 hours and 43 minutes. Arnold has created an epic look at young life, love and truth – and how it navigates through America from dingy motels to dirty truck stops.

Star (Sasha Lane), an adolescent girl from a troubled home, runs away with a raunchy gang of magazine-sellers who travel across America distributing subscriptions from door to door. Each member of the gang are hand picked by female boss Krystal (Riley Keough), in hopes of an escape from their distressing roots.

It doesn’t take long for Star to adapt to the hard-partying and law-bending ways of her new environment and a relationship develops with Jake (Shia LaBeouf) who takes advantage of her youthful naivety. A twenty first century fairytale unfolds and we’re captivated by a fickle and exciting young love. Their relationship is unstable, twisted and intense, and at times they’re brought together with anger, just as much as attraction. Arnold keeps up her cinematic style throughout their intimate scenes, with camera concentration on breathing, eye contact and the weight of skin on skin.

LaBeouf’s performance is nothing like we’ve seen of him in some time (maybe his mojo has been hiding away in that singular dreadlock?) Jake is the chief salesman and Krystal’s prize possession; her urban background is not far different from Stars which creates a don’t-give-a-fuck mentality. If you don’t make Krystal money, you’re back on the streets – live by this. The arrival of Star causes Jake to slack, resulting in bad blood with her new boss. However, although Star is no saleswoman, she still manages to make money via her own reckless means. Most which are uncomfortable to watch, but honest of this lifestyle.

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There is no extravagant plot twist in this narrative but rather layers of conflict that construct the coming of age drama. Some audiences are criticising the length of the film, however, Robbie Ryan’s cinematography glazes the grit of each frame with honey and sunlight, making it a delight to watch, regardless of the running time. The images are aquatinted with a soundtrack that won’t leave you for weeks. American Honey is a lyrical, grim reality. It’s irresistible and a must see.

 

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