American Honey: a lesson in creative casting and Shia Labeouf’s rat-tail

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After discovering that most of the films we’d been watching lately for our Saturday movie night were by A24 films, my friends and I decided to check out what other weirdness atop Ladybird and The Lobster we could find, and so our adventure began with American Honey.

Knowing Shia Labeouf was cast in a leading role, we suspected the film would be pretentious enough to scoff at, at the least, and pretentious/indie/weirdly entertaining enough to like at best (remember him in Nymphomaniac?).

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What surprised me the most and drew me into the 2016 three-hour film following Star’s (Sasha Lane) travels across the US with a magazine sales crew, was the casting. Several times throughout, I said aloud, “you can’t fake this.” These were the kinds of kids you find in Panama City on Spring Break. The accents (southern-meets-hip-hop-meets-surfer-bro), the mannerisms (a sideways hand pointing and bobbing to the beat of “Bounce It,” a song now placed in my Driving Around With Windows Down playlist)–this stuff just can’t be acted out so effortlessly by no-name actors.

Lo and behold, writer and director Andrea Arnold did indeed find her cast in Panama City…on Spring Break, as well as in strip clubs, county fairs, dollar stores–she even sat outside a Walmart with a fruit platter, asking potential characters if they’d like to be in a movie.

Sasha Lane, however, was cast a week before filming began. “If this is a porn or you try to kill me, I will kill you,” Lane told Arnold when she was scouted on a PCB beach in a white bikini and dreadlocks (Davis). And her response must have been what ultimately solidified Arnold’s choice to cast Lane in the leading role, as it’s Star’s naive, yet skeptical demeanor conflicting with her sense of adventure and longing for something more that makes her so fascinating to watch.

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The magazine crew industry, though highly problematic in the US, remains entirely unregulated. American Honey most likely only begins to delve into the darker side of these gangs of young people selling from door-to-door (often without licenses), but the reality is much more gruesome. Violence, drug use, prostitution: these are just a few of the problems facing those who partake in the magazine crew industry, but what American Honey captures so well of a probably overlooked aspect of the lifestyle, is the cult-like behavior of the group.

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Jake (played by Shia Labeouf and his supporting lead–the infamous rat-tail) is the highest seller of the group and bitch of the crew’s leader, Krystal (Riley Keough). His job is to flirt with and entice females into the job and then train them in the art of selling. Each week, the two who sell the least end up fighting each other in a sort of gang-initiation-like brawl that is both good for the group morale and a little disturbing. When Krystal notices Jake’s developing interest in Star, an awkward scene ensues in which she attempts to intimidate Star by showing the power she holds over Jake–she hands him a bottle of self-tanning lotion and he proceeds to lather her up.

Ultimately, though, American Honey is an enchanting peek into the life and psyche of young people after money, freedom, and belonging. It far exceeded my expectations–and I’d say worth adding to your own Saturday “weird-film” night.

 

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