American Honey as a movie offers a rare insight into the extreme disparity in all walks of life in American culture, and the eerie, bigoted and dogmatic similarities that are omniscient in all of them. It’s clinical, dramatic and immersive; achieved by Sasha Lane’s incredible debut performance as Star, alongside the notorious Shia Labeouf (Jake). Andrea Arnold’s canonical POV cinematography and awkward directing plays a vital role in plunging the viewer into the uncomfortably satisfying life perceived in this modern love story take. We follow Star, as she ditches her dead end life in Texas to travel across the southern states to sell magazine subscriptions, accompanied by an alluring and psychotic band of hooligans led in example by the endearing LaBeouf. The progressive camera angles capturing awkward facial expressions, that swerves and stutters, whilst never stagnant achieves an incredibly nauseating affect as we truly empathise with the natural emotions of the characters.
But what is overlooked in some respects alongside these incredible performances, is the radical approach to include music and soundtrack when it naturally occurs within the scene. The soundtrack becomes a diegetic character, with its own introductions and commentary; a subliminal hint at the theme of the scene establishing a vital role in the ever-intensifying experience that endeavour our band of hooligans.
Orchestrated by the legendary musician turned music supervisor Robert Gorham and his team at Earworm Media, American Honey is rich in trap and hip-hop parallels that tessellate in perfection with the patriotic and prominent country music that traditional America emblazes on its culture. Music is forever present in the film, and some of the tracks like the film opener ‘Bounce’ by Juicy J feature for barely a minute before dissolving into background, from a passing car’s stereo, that passes the hitchhiking protagonist.
We follow Star, in an over the shoulder look as she encounters her new travelling group to the theme of Quigley ‘Beginning of Anything’, which is soon overtaken by summer hit ‘We Found Love’, all from the loudspeaker of a Walmart store. The placement of each track tells a story in itself, and brings an insight into the characters personal tastes. Featuring Sam Hunts pop punk ‘Take Your Time’ with Stars corrosive and domestically sexualising cousin, to her first encounter with the eccentric band of teenagers mirrored with the obnoxiously booming bass of Kevin Gates ‘ Out of Mud’. As Stars love is captured by the enticing Jake we travel through Arnolds vision of Americas generalisation of the victims of poverty, that are manifested into the anomalies of white privilege.
The film’s journey follows Star as she leaves her oppressive background to come face to face with the class divide prominent across the states. First encountering middle class suburbia, before reaching the obnoxiously rich and entitled and ending in full circle in the working class oil rigs and trailer park slums of rural America, music is mirrored in the objectification of women and a materialistic view of wealth. The likes of Rae Sremmund, E-40, and OG Maco are littered around teenage birthday parties, convertible car stereos that echo a gentrification of rap alongside a culture inherent to gangsta rap. It amplifies the aura that surrounds Star as her metamorphosis into her new identity of sex, drugs and conning occurs. Seamless transitions into quaint modesty Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy ‘Careless Love’ and the scenic and schematic country of Copperhead Road bands offer a perspective rich in juxtaposition and an outlook on the culture outside of the city that is frowned upon and undervalued.
There are some stand out tracks, consequence of indie music filled in popular rite of passage, teenage love movies. The Raveonettes exquisite ‘Recharge & Revolt’ impresses on the brief romantic moments in the film, representing a carefree and naïve outlook on the world. Whereas other tracks like Lapsley ‘8896’ imparts love and wisdom on the young characters as they face ends with the irreversible damage of austerity and poverty that runs amok in the nation. Even the unexpected and comical Dead Kennedys ‘I Kill Children’, offers a retrospective look on how music can be learnt, manipulated and reflected on by even the youngest of listeners.
All in all the mammoth length 162-minute feature film, is dominated by narrative and expression, with a savage social commentary on what it means to exist in America. The music is at times an after thought, and despite the prevailing image it represents, the linear narrative loses an edge and the music adds to the exhaustion of the film. The film ends abruptly. Understated, subliminal and anticlimactic, after a rising melody of Raurys powerfully emotive ‘God’s Whisper’, American Honey makes a final comment towards our own impatience and expectations within our own lives. The importance of the films semantic values is universally relevant, helped by the eclectic and versatile soundtrack that hammers home the message of how we are collectively destroying our culture.