AMERICAN HONEY without a doubt offers a realistic glimpse into the woeful state of not just education, but of elemental foot-meets-dogshit common sense lacking in a good slice of the country’s youth, but if the infuriating idiot parade it offers is within reach of statistical truth about the majority, we may as well skip vaccines and start issuing cyanide capsules. From American Graffiti…to this?
Sulky Oklahoman teenager ‘Star’ (Sasha Lane) skips out on the kids she’s minding in a dead-end relationship situation in Muskogee and impulsively joins a traveling gypsy caravan of similarly adrift young people hawking magazine subscriptions door-to-door. The motley crew is run by 20s-something, self-impressed hustler ‘Jake’ (Shia LaBeouf), who serves as recruiter, trainer and dispenser-of-justice for ice-cold queen bitch ‘Krystal’ (Riley Keough), who selects the route, sets up the lodging and collects the money. They canvas the Midwest, partying all the way. Directing & writing (such as it is), Andrea Arnold lets this utterly dispiriting road trip with these cretins play out in epic length, 163 minutes worth, a good hour more than it would have required even if it had anything to offer beyond indulgence.
The professionals—LaBeouf, Keough, and briefly, Will Patton as one of their marks—are joined by first-timer Lane and “street cast” non-actors the director selected from everyday locations like parking lots, construction sites, beaches and sidewalks. Yo, improv time, y’all, as they vent their mindless energy: Goddess help us if this crass gibberish is the currency of the future. Watching LaBeouf and Lane get it on is about as erotic as witnessing a pedestrian v. bus collision. Keough’s performance has real sting, and the camera work from Robbie Ryan captures a good number of telling images. Newcomer Sasha Lane displays presence. But the staged cinema verite interactions among the crew, and especially with their “ordinary” ‘Merican” customers, are insultingly phony. Other than a few minutes with Keough, I didn’t believe any of it, other than to be convinced that the collective I.Q. of the rest of the outfit was on the level of a water buffalo, which would easily best them in grace and dignity.
Critics loved it: they can have it. Produced for $3,500,000, the international box office gross came to $2,290,649.