Prepare to (man)crush on Shia LaBeouf. Returning from a career wasteland to play a wastrel roaring across dustbowl America in a people carrier housing a peripatetic party posse, his charisma burns radioactive from the moment that we, like heroine Star (superb newcomer Sasha Lane), first spot him: hopping onto a Walmart checkout to strut his considerable stuff to Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love’.
American Honey sees one of Britain’s most exciting filmmakers muscle her way to the vanguard of global cinema. Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank) here fashions a loose, ragged American epic, its narrative cul-de-sacs and unwieldy length, with spin-cycle repetitions and flagrant dismissal of a three-act structure, bringing not just authenticity but a crazed, anything-goes energy. Yes, there’s a shorter, tighter film in there, but that would lose… well, everything.
Early scenes sketch out Star’s crushed life in Hicksville, Oklahoma. Then, after an oh-so-cute meeting with Jake (LaBeouf), she gets the hell out, joining the band of merrymaking misfits as they travel the Midwest selling magazine subscriptions by day and hoovering intoxicants by night. Take-no-shit Krystal (Riley Keough) is queen bee of the operation, and Jake is her on-call toy boy. Then Jake and Star begin to find love in a hopeless place…
With songs playing on loop (who doesn’t repeat favourites?), sun-soaked days bleeding into moonlit nights into weeks into months, and Robbie Ryan’s gorgeously scuzzy photography capturing Hopper-esque Americana, Malickian nature and the detritus coating all, American Honey presents an endless summer in which everyone lives in the incandescent moment.
As well they might: America is bust, these teens and twentysomethings robbed of their prospects. It would make for a sad, angry picture if anyone in it wasn’t too busy raving and chugging to notice.
Like an empty beer can rattling across a windswept parking lot, Arnold’s masterpiece blows between the kind of twilit ambience that infuses Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark and the thrilling energy of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers.
And like those pictures, it’s fuelled by outlaw spirit, with Jake and Star’s high-voltage connection recalling such on-the-lam classics as They Live By Night, Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands. A gun is even introduced at one point, but such is Arnold’s refusal to adhere to narrative conventions, its later appearance doesn’t play out quite as you’d expect.
Come the credits, this exhilarating, exhausting movie will leave you spent but ready to hit repeat. It’s the filmic equivalent of the anthemic tunes its characters listen to – immersive, euphoric and utterly addictive, demanding to be played again and again and again.