British filmmaker Andrea Arnold finds cinematic inspiration in a group of young American drifters, those tattered, tattooed, often defiant, yet seemingly aimless teenagers that lurk around places like Walmart. One of them is abused, 18 year-old Star (Sasha Lane) who deposits her two younger half-siblings in the care of their disaffected mother before blasting out of Muskogee, Oklahoma, with a group of hard-partying rowdies who drift around in a white van, hustling questionable magazine subscriptions.
Catching her eye, charismatic Jake (Shia LaBeouf) is the alpha male, who explains, “We don’t only sell magazines. We explore America.”
He travels separately in a convertible with “mean girl” Krystal (Riley Keough, Elvis Presley’s granddaughter), who manages the eclectic, almost-feral crew: Corey (McCaul Lombardi), a surfer-dude who whips out his penis for kicks, and “Star Wars”-obsessed Pagan (Arielle Holmes).
In perhaps the most strange, yet memorable scene, Star courts danger, taking off with three wealthy, middle-aged Texans, wearing white Stetsons, in their fancy car to rake in some quick cash.
Like her Oscar-winning short “Wasp” (2003) and “Fish Tank” (2009), writer/director Andrea Arnold works closely with cinematographer Robbie Ryan to create a Diane Arbus-like, cinema-verite atmosphere, displaying a somewhat disconcerting fixation on bugs.
For two hours and 42-minutes, Arnold focuses on these disaffected misfits, traveling through the Midwestern heartland, taking the title from a song by Lady Antebellum and featuring singalongs with Rihanna and Ludacris.
Discovered by Andrea Arnold on a beach, Texan newcomer Sasha Lane exudes sexuality, eager to viscerally explore all of her senses and experience intoxicating sensations, while Shia LaBeouf personifies the sleazy, hotheaded con artist who will, inevitably, disappoint.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “American Honey” is a subtly scrappy 6, a rambling, often repetitive road picture depicting a slice of Americana.