Andrea Arnold’s celebrated, rhapsodic yet shapeless road-trip movie American Honey follows Star (Sasha Lane), who flees the squalor of her Texas home to join a crew of magazine sellers, helmed by Jake (Shia LaBeouf). Crammed into a van or into motel rooms, the rootless runaway kids hustle subscriptions all over the Midwest.
Arnold, the director of Fish Tank and Wuthering Heights, has sharp instincts. And Lane, discovered on a Florida beach, was a find: this petite dreaming girl, half-amused with her ability to charm men, gives this rambling movie a center.
Star is enraptured with the landscapes. The gargantuan, Trumpian mini-mansions of Kansas City’s suburbs, appearing as described in Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas?, give way to the bleak fracking grounds on the prairie. (Among the roughnecks, Star is tempted to sell herself instead of the subscriptions.)
Arnold loves the cloudscapes, the interstate-scapes and even the insects flittering in for their closeups. But the director always seems a stranger to the people of the area. She doesn’t understand how nervous America is. Second only to “In God We Trust” is the motto “No solicitors.” It may be true that America is hard on the edges and soft in the middle, but these Midwestern doors seem porous to Jake’s aimless franticness and transparent bullshit stories.
There’s a third American motto that eludes Arnold: “You’re under arrest.” All the cops and security guards we have here never interfere with the dance parties and the bonfires these rootless kids throw in every other scene. It’s one thing being a teen and just letting stuff happen; it’s another to stage their lives that way—to hope that wrapping it all up with a song (the Lady Antebellum hit that gives this movies its title) will make it look like a story that’s come to a full stop.
‘American Honey’ is playing at Summerfield Cinemas, 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 707.522.0719.