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American Honey (5 stars)

Cannes 2016: Ambitious, enthralling US road trip movie from Britain’s Andrea Arnold

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American Honey

This is British director Andrea Arnold’s Wizard of Oz, taking the form of a vibrant and epic journey across America that sees a young woman named Star (impressive newcomer Sasha Lane) attempt to find a place to call home. It’s a rite of passage road trip that is incredible to behold, utterly transportive and packed full of wickedly alluring choreography and tunes. Like its protagonist, the film feels a little directionless at times, but there’s so much pleasure to be taken in Star’s unguarded encounters, which all contribute to the personal growth of this once brutalised soul.

When 18-year-old Star spots a rowdy group of teens in a supermarket singing and dancing along to Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love’ she’s instantly intrigued. She meets Jake (powerful work from a deliciously gross Shia LaBeouf, sporting a ratty braid and bum-bag), who asks her to come along to Kansas City and join a crew of door-to-door magazine sellers. She’s hooked in by his cocky attitude and soon starts falling for his charms, because anything seems brighter than her present state of affairs – living in an abusive home as a stand-in mother for two kids who aren’t her own.

Along the way she visits wealthy homes with emerald green lawns and meets friendly cowboys with wild horses. She sings along to Bruce Springsteen with a trucker, and learns to take risks and let loose. Her relationship with Jake is portrayed as a heady romance, with the two exploring one another in sun-dappled fields and convertible cars. There’s a grimy ambience to it all which recalls the films of Harmony Korine and Larry Clark, and the music videos of Melina Matsoukas. The group of youths she travels with on the open road are a mix of pot-smoking, vodka-swilling lost boys and girls who work hard and party hard, and the performances are suitably naturalistic. They are ruled over by the straight-talking Krystal (Riley Keough), whose capitalist agenda encourages them to exploit whoever they can to get what they need.

The pumping, almost continual blast of music is turned up to the max and includes songs from Lady Antebellum, E-40, Kevin Gates and Fetty Wap; accompanied by the evocative cinematography of Robbie Ryan (who worked on Arnold’s three previous features – Red Road, Fish Tank and Wuthering Heights), this conspires to create a spine-tingling and uplifting tale of untamed youth and rebellion. This is passionate and ambitious filmmaking from Arnold that recalls the desperate but hopeful lyrics of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’, one song that doesn’t appear on the rousing, sprawling soundtrack.

Screening as part of Cannes 2016. General release TBC.

American Honey

  • 5 stars
  • 2016
  • UK, US
  • 162 min
  • Directed by: Andrea Arnold
  • Cast: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough

When 18-year-old Star (Lane) meets Jake (LaBeouf, deliciously gross) and his crew of magazine sellers, all ruled over the straight-talking Krystal (Keough), she joins them on an epic road trip across America. A spine-tingling, uplifting tale of youth and rebellion from Arnold, with a pumping soundtrack and impressive…

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