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Cannes 2016: American Honey Review

By  · Published on May 27th, 2016

Over-ambitious, over-long, over-indulgent, miraculous.

Andrea Arnold has never been known for her restraint as a filmmaker. The Brit has always taken large risks in her films, both in form and content. Her most revered film, Fish Tank, won Arnold her second Jury Prize at Cannes and aided in making Michael Fassbender a star. Her latest film, the Jury Prize winning American Honey, is Arnold’s most audacious film yet.

Clocking in at just under a whopping three hours long, American Honey attempts to depict a raw, electric portrayal of lower class youth in the Midwest. It is self-indulgent, loud, messy, and a hell of a lot of fun. Newcomer Sasha Lane leads the cast as Star, a naïve teen who abandons her impoverished broken family to travel across the U.S. selling magazines with a group of fellow outcasts. In an age where no one actually reads magazines, the teens are selling themselves, rather than simple magazine subscriptions. Krystal (Riley Keough), the group’s leader, pairs Star up with top seller Jake (Shia LaBeouf) whom she quickly forms an attraction to.

American Honey not only confirms that Arnold can make just as great a film in the US as she can in Britain, but also solidifies what few have long believed: Shia LaBeouf is an incredible actor. LaBeouf is perfectly cast as the charismatic Jake, a role that will allow him to charm even those that detest the actor/artist most. Riley Keough is equally alluring as the always bitchy, always bikini-clad Krystal. After her success on The Girlfriend Experience, the actress is sure to break out soon. Unfortunately it will not be here, as Arnold restricts the fascinating character to a supporting role.

The film is a rather fascinating examination of the role of the millennial in a quickly evolving country. Arnold presents a group of lower class teens; teens that were perhaps not living in poverty before working for Krystal, but simply wanted something to do. Given pay for a job with little responsibility, the characters are able to live carefree lives without ever planting any roots.

The community is one that Arnold does not quite understand; yet her fascination is evident. As an outsider, Arnold is conceivably the perfect filmmaker to explore this lifestyle. As she did in Fish Tank, Arnold avoids placing judgment on any of her characters. Their motivations may be suspect, yet Arnold writes each and every one of them with such honesty that it becomes impossible not to root for them all.

American Honey radiates explosive energy throughout. Robbie Ryan’s camerawork is astonishing, and completely essential in the success of the narrative. Like the characters on screen, Ryan’s camera seems to roam freely across the landscape. Visually, there seems to be the influence of the later films of Terrence Malick, in addition to some shots resembling those from Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways. To complement Ryan’s camerawork, Arnold has assembled one of the year’s best soundtracks which includes songs by Rhianna, Bruce Springsteen, and bands too hip for this reviewer to recognize.

Read More: Cannes 2016 coverage

Andrea Arnold’s latest film is over-ambitious, over-long, and over-indulgent. It should not work, but it miraculously does. American Honey is a complete thrill from beginning to end and is definitely the liveliest film in a year where some of the festival’s best films moved glacially. While sure to divide audiences and critics, American Honey is a massive achievement.

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Toronto-based cinephile who especially enjoys French films.