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Film / American Honey

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American Honey is a 2016 drama film directed by Andrea Arnold, starring Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, and Riley Keough. Star is a teenaged girl in Oklahoma who happens to come across a traveling “mag crew”—a bunch of poor teenagers who go door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions. The crew is led by Krystal and Jake, the latter who draws Star in with his charms. With nothing to lose, Star runs away from home to join the crew on the road and goes on a journey of self-discovery, law-bending, and first love.

The film was released by A24 in the United States and in the United Kingdom by Universal Pictures. It received critical acclaim and earned a BAFTA nomination for Best British Film. The members of the mag crew were played by unknown actors the director found herself while scouring beaches, streets, and state fairs.

American Honey provides examples of:

  • Alpha Bitch: Krystal, the crew’s leader. She is intimidating to new recruits to the team and exacting when it comes to team members’ sales numbers.
  • Auto Erotica: Jake and Star have sex in the front seat of his car.
  • Blade-of-Grass Cut: Used many times in closeups of the grass and insects of the open fields.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Rarely does a sentence pass among the team without a strong curse word tossed in.
  • Coming of Age Story: Star experiences all the hallmarks of adolescence—first love, finding her own identity, heartbreak, and belonging.
  • The Con: Jake tries to bilk a potential customer by claiming he is with a "collegiate communications competition" and needs the money for school.
  • Dirty Old Man:
    • Star's own father is sexually abusive towards her, which is one of her motivations to leave.
    • The cowboys who pick up Star. Though they don’t do anything sexually with Star and playfully joke around with her, there is a menacing air to them. Jake gets Star before anything further can happen.
  • Drinking Game: When Star is brought to one of the cowboy’s homes, the men offer to buy several subscriptions from her if she eats the worm at the bottom of a bottle of mezcal.
  • Dumpster Dive: How the film begins.
  • Dysfunction Junction / Abusive Parents: Star’s home life is a troubled one. She watches over two young children that aren't hers and is living with the children’s alcoholic father who gropes her.
  • Fille Fatale: When Jake is doing his rounds in an affluent neighborhood, one of the people who answers the door is a tween girl, whom Jake proceeds to flirt with. The girl’s mom invites Jake and Star in to explain what they’re selling. While Jake and Star are inside the house, the daughter is dancing in the backyard with friends, making eyes at Jake and trying to get his attention.
  • Flyover Country
  • Friend to All Living Things / Friend to Bugs: Star is shown to have a connection with animals, even insects. She captures a bee trapped indoors and sets it free outside, and later has a moment where she interacts with a bear.
  • Hollywood Atheist: When Jake snarkily asks if Star is religious after she objects to him stealing a ring from one of the woman they tried to scam, Star then vitriolically denies it, even referring to God with Country Matters.
  • House Squatting: At one point, the crew temporarily makes their home in a rundown, abandoned house in rural Nebraska.
  • Hypocrite: Krystal has a team rule stating no relationships among members because “love is bad for business." However, she herself carries on a casual relationship with Jake.
  • Intimate Lotion Application: As Krystal gives Star a dressing down due to her low sales, she also cruelly makes Star's crush Jake intimately lather tanning lotion on her legs, not only to make Star jealous but also to demonstrate her dominance over both of them.
  • I Shall Taunt You: After Krystal lectures Star on her low sales numbers, she has Jake apply tanning lotion to her body in front of Star.
  • Leitmotif: Star’s first interaction with the mag crew happens when the Rihanna song “We Found Love” starts playing in a Kmart, leading the crew to do an impromptu dance in the store. When crew members are later dropped off at an oil field, the song plays again as the girls dance in front of the oil well workers.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Star and Jake have sex in a field at one point.
  • Missing Mom: Star’s own mother died from a meth overdose, so she buys groceries for the kids of a drug addict out of sympathy.
  • Public Secret Message: Jake and Star use a wolf howl to call out to each other.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The magazine sales crew is comprised of teens from broken homes or other disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Jake carries around a loaded gun and jokingly waves it in front of Star’s face, angering her. Later, he uses it to threaten the cowboys who Star hitched a ride with.
  • Road Trip Plot: The film follows a traveling magazine sales crew as they traverse through multiple states in the Midwest—Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota among them.
  • The Runaway: Star.
  • Silent Treatment: Star gives Jake the cold shoulder after the tanning lotion incident. He claims to Star he was doing her a favor by keeping Krystal happy.
  • Slice of Life: As the crew crisscrosses the Midwest, the film captures vignettes of the American heartland, as well as life in a traveling mag sales crew.
  • Symbolic Baptism: At the end, Star frees the turtle that Jake gave to her. She wades into a pond and completely submerges herself, before resurfacing. This could imply Star’s rebirth and moving on from Jake.
  • Take Care of the Kids: Star looks after Rubin and his sister Kelsey because their biological mom Misty is a neglectful parent. When Star decides to join the mag crew, she finds Misty line dancing at a bar and leaves the two kids with her.
  • Title Drop:
    • First mentioned when Star is introduced to Krystal, the crew's leader.
    Krystal: Where's that accent from?
    Star: Texas.
    Krystal: So you're a southern girl. A real American honey like me. You know that song?
    Star: No.
    • Later the song Krystal was referring to, the Lady A song “American Honey”, plays in the van and the crew sing along.
  • Wearing a Flag on Your Head: Krystal is wearing a Rebel flag bikini in the tanning lotion scene.
  • Wild Teen Party: The crew sells magazine subscriptions during the day and parties hard at night.