There aren’t many three-hour long indie dramas that leave me feeling energized at the end. American Honey is an exception to the rule; I left the theatre unusually upbeat. A big part of that has to do with the story and the way it’s told, but the real shot of adrenaline came from seeing the credits.
We first get that indulgent claim that this is “a film by,” which in any other production would cite the writer/director (in this case, the incredibly talented Andrea Arnold). Instead, the actors’ names come next, one by one, and then a crowded list of 50+ names, arranged alphabetically, without attribution. Your name is on that list (and so it Arnold’s). And then we get another screen filled with names, and another one. After that, the credits do their legal duty of citing all the rights holders for the pop music in the film (the only music in the film), a few thank-yous, and we’re out.
What a refreshing reminder of the collaborative nature of filmmaking.
American Honey exudes that spirit throughout. It’s a free-spirited open road movie that does little to satisfy those fixated on plot (a sin that I’m often guilty of). Yet this is hardly a formless Terrence Malick-style movie—the film has a clear star (this is literally Sasha Lane’s character name) and a linear story for her to follow, which makes the rest of her wandering particularly compelling. Star, as a dumpster-diving, short-shorts-wearing, dreadlocked teenager who joins a travelling magazine sales crew, is pretty much the modern dictionary definition of A Hot Mess. But by the time she’s drawn into the life on the road to escape her disgusting and dire home life, every shot of passing landscape and new urban development feels like a vision of hope and opportunity.
The biggest draw for her, of course, isn’t the prospect of selling magazines on the road, but following Shia LeBoeuf’s charming charlatan—and he plays his cards to perfection. For much of the movie, we don’t really understand what the kids do or how the whole thing really works, but we do have faith that something is holding it all together. Just like the film itself. With dangers popping up, jealousies ready to boil over, and a wide range of non-professional actors that all feel incredibly suited to their roles, the whole production feels like a less cynical Harmony Korine movie. In fact, it seems impossible that the director isn’t straight out of this demographic herself (she’s a 55 year-old British Oscar-winner, which might surprise even you). But that’s a credit to Arnold’s trust in her collaborators, and her ability to find a way to tell the story of impoverished youth and rebellion that doesn’t fetishize or patronize the experience.
So whatever you did—be proud. It all added up in the end.