The film is the spiritual successor to the oeuvre of Larry Clark and Harmony Korine -- films like “Kids” that essentially just follow young people around, observing their wild behavior without commentary. Here they are lost souls riding a bandwagon to oblivion, a dozen or so youngsters crammed into a huge van traveling from town to town, knocking on doors to sell magazine subscriptions.
You’ve probably seen these kids at your doorstep, talking about hard times they’ve been through and how you can help them reach their dreams by helping them earn “points” toward a college scholarship. Jake (Shia LaBeouf) is the oldest and savviest player in this game, donning an old sport coat and whipping up a new tale of woe based on how he reads each person answering the door.
Star (Lane) is stuck in some hillbilly town caring for a pair of kids while their mother spends her days in a stupor in a honkey-tonk bar, and the father makes increasingly disturbing sexual overtures. When she spots the magazine crew of free spirits, she hitches along on a whim.
It’s an eclectic mix of losers and wannabes, most of whom remain in the background as a sort of Greek chorus. There’s the goth girl, the surfer dude, the buff guy who never wears a shirt and has a tendency to take his junk out and wave it at people for laughs.
The main dynamic is between Jake, Star and Krystal (Riley Keough), the hardcase young woman running the show. She treats the members of the crew like lost puppies she picks up by the side of the road, and discards just as easily if they don’t play by her rules and earn money. At the end of a run, the two lowest-earning people have to square off in a fight at the “Losers’ Ball.”
Jake is her plaything, exuding an attitude of independence and brashness, but ready to serve as her chauffeur or bed partner as Krystal demands. Clearly enamored with Jake, Star is soon at odds with the boss-lady.
Things play out from there, carefree encounters punctuated by long spells inside the van, cruising along, getting high and rockin’ to some tunes. The most memorable episode is Star taking off with a trio of middle-aged rich cowboys, the type who wear 10-gallon hats and big belt buckles, but probably haven’t done any manual labor in 20 years.
I didn’t mind Arnold’s unstructured narrative, though many people may find it languid. I did wish it would round out to something more consequential than a simple love triangle. But the tour goes on, some faces disappear without warning and new ones show up to replace them.
Soon Star is now longer the newbie, but a veteran of the rainbow troupe. She finds herself by losing herself, I guess you’d say. “American Honey” is a whirlwind of a film, a harsh breeze of chaotic energy that doesn’t really have any purpose or direction, but kicks up quite a ruckus along the way.
Bonus features are deplorably lacking, consisting entirely of an interview with Keough and Lane.