Numerous coming-of-age dramas are either blockbuster attempts to picture an adolescent or they are flattering in an uninteresting way. Politically correct but false portraits that actually don’t exist in real teenage world are quite common. Coming-of-age films frequently commit a huge mistake by taking this subject too lightly, or creating false intensity and false drama instead of depicting reality. In the captivating, poetic, provocative, and extremely moving film, American Honey, Andrea Arnold creates a wonderful depiction of teenagers and their dreams in today’s dreamland, or simply today’s USA.
Arnold’s protagonist is an 18-year-old girl named Star who lives in rural Texas and is absolutely hopeless in her life. In her miserable house she has no parental care or opportunity to get a proper education; she has no one to rely on other than herself. Moreover, she has a responsibility to take care of her siblings by herself, and to make the matters worse, she needs to deal with her abusive “father.” In the beginning, it seems like we’re going to watch another struggling teenage drama, but Arnold immediately changes the film’s route, and it turns into a strong rejection of teenage movie clichés.
The film becomes a rejection against the life that’s been dictated to our beloved main character . The transformation of Star starts at a very significant place: Wall-Mart, that strong symbol of Western capitalism. After a little trip to supermarket, Star meets a bunch of young outcasts from all over the country and their magnetizing, charismatic leader Jake. They are in the door-to-door marketing business and have an empty seat in their car for Star. It’s impossible to resist Jake’s magnetism and the group’s offer. So Star packs up her things and tags along. Every group member Star meets has a dream, just like her, and they are going after their dreams in this dusty dreamland.
In American Honey, dreams and expectations are extremely crucial, because Arnold is courageous enough to say “your expectations and your dreams have no exception over someone else’s dreams.” By capturing the moments that Star has in the group, Arnold emphasizes that a dream is usually an illusion created by the materialist world, but following your dream as a group may lead you to get rid off your selfish individualism and give you the opportunity to find new dreams and hope within collectivism. Without helping or at least caring about others as they try to reach their dreams you can’t get one, American Honey says.
There is another sub-theme in American Honey worthy of mentioning: It’s the transformation of pure, naïve love. Although Star accepts the job offer to make money—and to get rid off her horrible home—she also stays in the group because she’s in love with Jake. The journey she has with the group and with Jake helps her to transform her love for Jake into an absolute love for everyone she collaborates with. And this experience is filmed in perfect images; 4:3 frames, an amazing soundtrack, and powerful performances by Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf and the entire cast of mesmerizing young people in the group. From its first frame to its last, American Honey promises an honest, painful, hopeful, and imperfect-in-a-good way experience with authenticity. After you finish the film, the film continues to run through your veins.
Edited by José Teodoro
© FIPRESCI 2016