"American Honey" is a sweeping epic that captures a side of America that rarely, if ever, has been captured on film.
Writer/director Andrea Arnold, who was behind the little seen 2009 gem "Fish Tank," has made a film that shows a different kind of American dream - anchored by one of the year's best performances to date.
That performance comes from 21-year-old newcomer Sasha Lane, who is a revelation as Star - a teenage girl who decides to join a magazine sales crew of misfits who travels around the Midwest trying to make a buck between late night parties at seedy hotels and some questionable ethical approaches to making sales.
The crew includes it's no nonsense leader named Krystal (Riley Keough) and her best salesman Jake (Shia LaBeouf), who Star becomes romantically interested in.
As Star struggles to adjust to her new life, she also learns something about herself - going on a journey of self-discovery that proves to be even more valuable than she could have imagined.
"American Honey" could have been easily called "American Hustle" - showing a group of street kids that will do anything to survive. At times it's as if Arnold has just dropped a camera into this world and the audience is fortunate enough to see what happens. Some scenes take their time, lasting longer than most audiences are accustomed to - only adding to the effectiveness.
Arnold draws from the same elements that made "Fish Tank" so captivating, with both films strengthened by strong young female characters who are looking to find their way in a harsh world.
LaBeouf is very good in a role that requires him to be both charming and sketchy, sometimes in the same scene. An extended sequence where we he is teaching Star the ropes is fascinating, as Jake is able to adapt any persona necessary to get his foot in the door.
But it is Lane who is the pulse of "American Honey." It is her first feature film, but she is a natural in front of the camera - embodying everything Star is. It's the kind of performance that makes you take notice, in a film that deserves to be seen (and praised).