American Honey

Andrea ArnoldUnited Kingdom / USA162 minutes201518AColourEnglish

Acclaimed filmmaker Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights) won the Jury Prize at Cannes for her first film set in America, about a crew of hard-partying teenagers criss-crossing the Midwest while working as travelling magazine salesmen.

With only four features to her name, Andrea Arnold has already earned the title of auteur. Her films are marked by a lyrical shooting style that's juxtaposed with the harsh reality it captures, and by the great compassion with which she observes characters. Her protagonists are always female, and though she puts them in perilous positions, she never punishes them. Instead, she allows them to flourish against all odds. This humanist streak continues in Arnold's most recent film, the Cannes Jury Prize winner American Honey.

Star (newcomer Sasha Lane) lives on the fringes of American society, resorting to dumpster diving in order to feed her half-siblings. When she meets Jake (Shia LaBeouf) dancing in the aisles at a Kmart, their attraction is instantaneous and magnetic. Star places the kids in care and immediately joins Jake on a cross-country drive with a Dickensian gang of misfits: slugging hard liquor in the backs of vans, crashing in rundown motels, and selling fraudulent magazine subscriptions. Star and Jake are ecstatic in each other's company. They begin dreaming of a house and family to call their own. But their relationship offends the crew's queen bee, Krystal (Riley Keough), and Star's precarious place — in the gang and in society — becomes clear.

Shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, the film keeps us close to its cast. Lane and LaBeouf are an electric pairing; the screen can barely contain the ecstasy of their scenes together. And Arnold brings a verité-style realism to the motley band of youths, who are played for the most part by non-professional actors. Propelled by a dynamic soundtrack that ranges from E-40 to Rihanna to Bruce Springsteen, American Honey is an energetic road trip across a rarely seen America.

CAMERON BAILEY

Coming of AgeFemale ExperienceMusicFemale Director