American Honey made waves when it won the Prix du Jury at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and word spread about Hollywood newcomer Sasha Lane and her breakout performance as well as a return to form for Shia LaBeouf. Both those statements ring true as the film offers an intimate window into the wandering lifestyle of a teenage girl trying to find her purpose.
Star (Sasha Lane) has high aspirations for her life but responsibilities at home have kept her from pursuing her dreams, or at least figuring out what said dreams actually are. That all changes when she bumps into Jake (Shia LaBeouf), a traveling magazine salesman with a silver tongue who convinces her to drop everything and join his merry band of misfits who live their lives on the road. She embarks on a journey of self-discovery as she goes from state to state, motel to motel, learning about life and the people she meets along the way.
The first thing I noticed about American Honey is that it’s filmed in the classic 4:3 aspect ratio as opposed to the more traditional widescreen format. It gives the film a more intimate feeling with the focus always being center screen as there’s less imagery to take in at any given moment. That doesn’t make it any less beautiful, however. I’d honestly believe that the film was an 80’s coming-of-age drama if it were not for the iPhones and Rihanna music that plays throughout. It simply has that classic feel to it.
American Honey is a personal story with Star front and center. Newcomer Sasha Lane does a good job at carrying the film with the help of Shia LaBeouf. Much like her experience with Hollywood, Star is new to this whole business of selling magazines and is just taking it all in at once. She has her own expectations of how things should work and of Jake, too, but rarely does reality match them. As exciting as these new experiences are for her, there are still plenty moments of disappointment as well.
At almost three hours long, American Honey is a long watch but it’s worth it. There’s a flow to the film that makes it feel natural and realistic as you’re never quite sure which direction it’s headed. Solid performances and an interesting story keep you engaged throughout and make you care about Star. It’s not so much about the destination but about the journey you take with her.