Fantastic Fest 2016 Review: AMERICAN HONEY

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By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Writer/director Andrea Arnold captures lightning in bottle with her new film American Honey.  The lightning, to which I am referring, is Arnold’s lead actress Sasha Lane.  Lane, who has no previous acting experience, shows that she is a naturally talented actress and has an undeniable screen presence and energy.  Arnold’s film serves as a portrait of reckless and uncultivated youth transitioning not-so-smoothly into the realities of adulthood, but with a lust for life nevertheless.  Lane perfectly personifies this type of character and all of its zest, vulnerabilities, confusion and realizations.  Arnold’s lo-fi, stripped-down presentation gives it all such a gritty, real-world feel that one can easily forget that the movie is a fictional feature film, and not a home movie or low budget documentary.

Lane portrays Star, an 18 year-old living in poverty with no direction or goals in life.  She simply lives day-to-day trying to survive and care for her step-siblings.  On one fateful day, Star comes across Jake (Shia Labeouf) and his band of “lost children.”  Jake and his group travel cross-country, going door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions, making money, and partying hard.  The group is led by the no-nonsense Krystal (Riley Keough) who treats her employees well, as long as they are making money.  Jake and Krystal recruit Star, who is more than happy to leave her hard life behind. What follows is a road trip full wild times, self-reflection, and discovery as Star faces the inevitability of adulthood.

Arnold’s film is a definite diamond in the rough and her star Sasha Lane is a revelation.  I find it so incredible that such a talented actress has no previous experience whatsoever and is a natural as a lead.  Her commanding and affecting performance is reason alone to see this film.  Still, Arnold’s refreshing style and approach to the subject and material makes the movie even more watchable.  The movie runs a tad too long, but that really is the only complaint I have about this remarkable piece.  The performances by Shia Labeouf, Riley Keough, and a mostly amateur supporting cast are exceptional.  In a sea of cliche’ rehashes, remakes, and copy-cats, this movie does stand-out as a breath of fresh air and Sasha Lane is absolutely electric and exciting to watch on screen.

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