'American Honey': Cannes Review

A road movie without a map that nonetheless arrives at a worthwhile destination.

Newcomer Sasha Lane stars alongside Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough in Andrea Arnold's first U.S. feature, about a teen runaway who takes up with a traveling youth crew.

In Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller used the defeat of a door-to-door peddler to shatter the defining myth of a country where opportunity, material gain and personal fulfillment are there for the taking. But it's doubtful the playwright could ever have imagined the traveling sales crew in American Honey, a mob of teenage drifters suspended between emptiness and defiant resilience, selling something no one wants. Brit writer-director Andrea Arnold's first U.S. feature is an immersive road movie that's bound to be divisive — some will embrace it as an audacious freeform subculture odyssey, laced with moments of lyricism, while others will shrug at its baggy running time and paucity of narrative incident. Either way though, it's definitely something to be seen.

Much of the movie unfolds in confined spaces like the van, truck compartments or cheap motel rooms, but even open-air, walking-and-talking scenes are viewed through a tightly focused lens. Startling images of nature punctuate the film, providing an expressive motif that invites comparison to the work of Terrence Malick — from bugs, birds and bees to dogs, cows and horses, a turtle, a sugar glider and a bear that clearly hasn't seen The Revenant.

The use of music is exhilarating throughout, from the rap and country-rock songs played in the van to Bruce Springsteen's "Dream Baby Dream," which becomes a shared wish during a warm encounter between Star and a kind family-man trucker. Particularly haunting use is made of Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's "Careless Love," while the Lady Antebellum song that gives the movie its title becomes a celebration of female freedom. And ultimately, despite its many somber reflections on the road from an uneasy past to an uncertain future, that's the chief takeaway from this rambling but unexpectedly penetrating film.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)
Distribution: A24

Production companies: Parts & Labor, Pulse Films, in association with Mandown Pictures
Cast: Sasha Lane, Riley Keough, Shia LaBeouf, Raymond Coalson, Chad McKenzie Cox, Verronikah Ezell, Arielle Holmes, Garry Howell, Crystal B. Ice, McCaul Lombardi, Shawna Rae Moseley, Dakota Powers, Isaiah Stone, Kenneth Kory Tucker, Christopher David Wright
Director-screenwriter: Andrea Arnold
Producers: Lars Knudsen, Jay Van Hoy, Pouya Shahbazian, Alice Weinberg, Thomas Benski, Lucas Ochoa
Executive producers: Rose Garnett, David Kosse, Ben Roberts, Lizzie Francke, Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler, Charlotte Ubben Justice, Marisa Clifford, Paul Grindey, Mike Goodridge, Melissa Hook Shahbazian
Director of photography: Robbie Ryan
Production designer: Kelly McGehee
Costume designer: Alex Bovaird
Editor: Joe Bini
Casting: Jennifer Venditti, Lucy Pardee
Sales: Protagonist Pictures

Not rated, 162 minutes