Directed by Andrea Arnold
I’m starting my list with this particular film because it made me feel partially spoilt when choosing what I loved this year. The chief luxury of the middle-class is just that: choice. And it’s the handling of that theme that struck me with American Honey.
The children in Arnold’s film listen to whatever’s played on the radio, travel to any door, eat anything that’s put in front of them. They are sponges without a shred of dissatisfaction. It’s a hard concept to wrap around given that the common label of this young generation is ever repeated as whiny ingrates.
By accepting the hands dealt to them, these characters are innumerably wealthier in spirit than the children that bathe in their parents wealth, dancing scantily clad in their paradisal backyards. Though never hyper-critical of the nouveau-rich, the film would rather spend time with the weirdos, the misfits and the rebels than the over-examined higher echelons of America.
Arnold accomplished something miraculous in that she’s brutally unapologetic in her outlook, borrowing this purview from her native predecessor Ken Loach’s Kes. But her style is truly American, like a modern-day Dead End by William Wyler or Larry Clark’s blowout debut Kids, it carefully sympathizes without romanticizing the nature of poverty in America.
With subtle imitation of the Maysles Brothers brilliant documentary Salesman in both style and form within its first act, a type of meta-narrative emerges. The haggard machine as personified by Krystal exploits her fellow youth to sell some magazine-thin truths at the doorsteps and truck-stops of America. Those that sell them can’t afford what they’re selling or perhaps, more importantly, simply don’t believe in it anymore.