Star (Sasha Lane) is an eighteen-year-old girl who has been landed with looking after her half-siblings, two much younger children who assist her in her dumpster diving around the back of a supermarket where she finds foods that have been thrown out because they are close to or past their sell-by date and takes them home for the family, they being her stepfather and mother. While she's doing this she tries to get picked up as a hitchhiker to take her and the kids home, but this proves fruitless, one van of teens driving by and jeering her as they go to park outside the supermarket. But she is immediately interested in one of them, Jake (Shia LaBeouf), who catches her eye - who knows where this will lead?
Sasha Lane's story was a major part of the publicity for American Honey, British director Andrea Arnold's excursion across the Atlantic to highlight the lives of those who fell between the cracks in the United States, much as she had done on home turf with her other work. Lane had been plucked from obscurity when the filmmaker went seeking amateurs to appear in her movie, and indeed most of the cast aside from LaBeouf and Riley Keough, who played the administrator of a group of so-called mag kids, had no previous acting experience. Lane was highlighted in particular since she was the star, rather obviously for playing someone actually named Star, and because she was so self-assured in her debut role.
Although this looked unpromising at the beginning, and may have had you wondering why you were watching these people, stick with it as Arnold displayed a real empathy for the forgotten souls she was bringing to the screen. It might have been tempting to write this off as on a par with your average Harmony Korine exploitative effort, but there was a genuine interest in having us remember these kids when mainstream society would never give them a moment's thought other than when they are accosted by them at their doors or in the street and are persuaded, or otherwise, to buy a magazine subscription from them. This was where Star ended up as she told her mother she had a new job, and headed off on the road with Jake.
It could be regarded as irresponsible to leave the two little children behind when we can tell they are not growing up in a great environment that Star could have soothed quite a bit, but she has her own life to lead and as the story progressed we began to see the compassion she had, or at least the integrity, that was lacking in many surrounding her. Not her fellow mag kids, they come across as dumb, party hard teens who are not really malicious and excited by the prospect of having their own money to hand even if it's clear their independence is something of an illusion, but Jake and Keough's Krystal were getting one over on their charges, with both essaying villainous roles of a sort, LaBeouf especially putting in a convincing portrayal of a complete asshole who will lead Star on as far as possible if it suits him.
Suits him to make money off her, or suits him to seduce her, whichever he feels on his whims is appropriate for the moment. We can tell Star is a cut above the usual opportunists that Krystal would like her to be - on Krystal's terms naturally - when we get hints of it in scenes where she refuses to play ball with Jake's acting (or hustling), or when she heads off on her own with a trio of good ol' boys to their swanky home where she knows she can make a profit, and she does, though she has to compromise to do so, yet everyone's having a nice enough time until Jake gatecrashes and ruins it. It's only when she sells something else, far more personal and sexual, to an oil worker that we can understand how far into degradation she can get, and her lifestyle merely encourages that. Is it a wake-up call for Star that she can do a hell of a lot better? We can hope so, though the film ended, after nearly three hours and not one minute wasted, on an ambiguous note, or an inconclusive one anyway. Ramshackle but engrossing; Arnold's camera picking up some surprisingly tender imagery in amongst the hard-edged scenes.