Writer and Director Andrea Arnold found newcomer Sasha Lane on
the beach at Spring Break. She
had just exactly the look that Ms. Arnold had been searching for, and
there's no question that the camera loves Sasha.
What's less certain is if we viewers love her character, Star.
First, we feel sorry for her.
We first meet Star while she's picking food out of a garbage
bin, and giving it to a couple of little kids who are with her.
Then they hitchike back to the apartment.
At first, we think she's too young to have kids---the little
boy looks around 4, the girl maybe 9 or 10.
But though it's never really explained, we later surmise that
the kids aren't hers, but some kind of step siblings, who don't look
at all like her.
It's inside a Kmart that Star first encounters Jake (Shia
LaBeouf). He's cavorting
around with a bunch of late teen/young adult types, running and
chasing each other and occasionally standing on countertops, but she's
immediately attracted to Jake's energy.
He drops his phone inside the store, and when she returns it to
him, in the parking lot with her two kids in tow, he invites her to go
away with them. To Kansas.
To sell magazine subscriptions.
It'll be fun.
Star is just responsible enough to not leave the kids standing
there by themselves in the parking lot, but jettisoning them is not
easy. She finally finds
the Stepmom at a country bar, learning a line dance, and she does not
seem at all interested in taking them back, even if Star has found a
job. But Star says she has
to go to the bathroom, and runs out the door into the dark night of
freedom. She finds the van
outside the Motel 6, where Jake said they would be, and she just falls
asleep in the parking lot next to the van.
The next morning, Jake says, “I knew you'd come.”
When Star says “How'd you know that?, he replies “Because
you like me.”
And she does. But
it turns out he's not really the leader of the group.
He's the recruiter for the woman who is, Krystal (Riley Keough,
who happens to be Elvis Presley's granddaughter!).
Krystal is a tough taskmaster.
She tells her charges that they have to sell or they're out.
They'll be left behind. She'll
provide the food and the hotel rooms, and occasionally, the outfits
she wants them to wear. They'll
work when and where they're told.
Star's happy to go along for the ride.
Almost anything would be better than what she was doing.
And of course the Lost Souls with her are in the same boat she
They party hard---passing around the bottle in the van on their
way to the posh suburbs. They
sing along with rap music, they trash talk each other, they invent
these strange games together, like how the person who's sold the least
that day has to run a kind of physical gauntlet from the group.
They are very casual around each other, and there's a lot of
sexual energy abundant in their interactions, but Krystal, who travels
separately in a convertible, insists on separate rooms for the other
men and women at the hotels, except that she has a private room for
herself, and can invite over any guy she wants.
Star soon learns that the technique of selling magazine
subscriptions is really just about lying to get money.
Jake teaches her to tell people anything---they're working
their way through college, they're orphans, their parents died in
Afghanistan, they're in a competition where the winner gets a
scholarship. Anything to
“hook” the people into buying a subscription.
Star doesn't like the tactics, but enjoys being with the group,
and has a crush on Jake, despite the fact that he tells her plainly
that he's not ready to be exclusive with anyone.
And when the inevitable happens, and they do get together, the
energy is fierce, but that's all there is.
Along the way, we learn that Star can also be quite the tease
and manipulator when she wants to be, but seems unheeding of the
danger with strangers. It's
a reckless, raucous, even raunchy kind of nomadic existence.
We sure don't admire her, and we're not even sure we really
like her, but we still can't take our eyes off her.
“American Honey” is rambling, inconsistent, irreverent, too
long, often boring, and constantly scatalogical.
Worse, it appears to glamorize irresponsible con artists.
It's certainly not one for the church youth group.
But it just might be known as the vehicle for a Star being
Questions for Discussion:
When have you massaged the truth in order to convince
someone else to buy something?
you wanted to just hit the open road, not even sure where it was
When have you wanted to be part of a rowdy group just
because they looked like fun people to be around?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association