Director Andrea Arnold delves into the underbelly of America to explore youth, female sexuality and gaping class divides in this wind-in-your-hair coming-of-age film.

Raised in a down-and-out town, Star is a young woman with little to lose who decides to try her luck with a pack of youths living on the road and making ends meet selling magazine subscriptions. Lured in by a rugged Shia LaBeouf (Jake), Star is exposed to the earn-fast, party-hard lifestyle of the motley crew, as well as the wrath of white-trash perma-tanned boss, Krystal. Her path is a journey with an unknown destination, offering hope and pleasure as well as pain and disappointment in equal measure.

Sasha Lane simmers as the moody, headstrong Star, displaying a female sexuality rarely caught on camera. Bold, yet dangerously naive, much of the film’s tension remains latent as she repeatedly puts or finds herself in supremely vulnerable situations. LaBeouf plays a feral Jake who displays a raw chemistry with Lane, visible in their vivid moments of intimacy and his violent defence of her from prying eyes.

The film is more an atmospheric stream of experience than a sequence of events – the scenery, music and tattooed-flesh-filled images are as much the substance as the speech and action. It is infused with the American landscape: the camera soaks in the rich varied land they travel through, the wildlife they encounter, as well as sprawling areas of urban decay. Hollowed-out towns and desperate people are contrasted with tree-lined streets and middle-class guilt. The soundtrack, which is mainly made up of the tunes blasted out the group’s van, is an education in American music, with deep bass and hip hop, Rihanna tracks and, movingly, country song American Honey forming the backdrop to their encounters. Also recurring is the motif of the American flag, reminding the audience this is all America, including the unseen, un-touched-up bits where the American Dream is a sham.

American Honey allows the audience to share in Star’s journey without missing a heartbeat, in full colour and with the volume turned up, showing the US with a realism that is refreshing and troubling at the same time. Though the improv-style dialogue and lingering gazes may seem indulgent at times, the immersive experience that is American Honey lingers on in the ears and the mind well after the film ends.

★★★★★

By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 14th October 2016.

American Honey is released nationwide on 14th October 2016. For more information, visit here.

Watch the trailer for American Honey here: