calamityhey’s review published on Letterboxd:
Pretty on the fence with this one. I can dig the ambition, but there's no doubt that attempting to put forth a treatise about American youth (and honeys) is the kind of big grand statement that is bound to end up looking a little reductive, not to mention open and vulnerable to preachy moralizing and/or embarrassing fetishizing. American Honey has those problems, as well as a bad habit of indulging in a minstrely depiction of flyover country that often resembles poverty porn. Indeed, had I known nothing about Andrea Arnold I still would have guessed that she wasn't American, it has that sort of ethnographic vibe to it, and carries with it all the related problematics. Toss in dialogue and song choices that winkingly spell out the film's themes and values, and you have movie that I was very inclined to dislike.
There's stuff that works really well too, and while I think Arnold's choice to spin a story of survival v. American complacency into On the Road for the Vice Media gen, I think there are ideas inherent to this narrative that resonate. For one, there's the depiction of milennials as the product of the friction generated by the clash between their crypto-communist values and a diet of the ultra aggressive pop culture of the late 90's/2000's, a sort of update on Godard's "The children of Marx and Coca-Cola". Indeed, the cultural touchstones referenced both aesthetically and literally cover trap, punk, amateur porn, MMA, pokemon, outlaw country, and god knows what else. While its hard to deny that there's an air of glibness around the implementation of a lot of these reference points, it was still refreshing to hear a great, modern soundtrack that has its thumb on the pulse and treats trap music with respect.
Andrea Arnold also tries to play seer here, with the script establishing this way of life as the successor to the young professional, where labor is more representative of survival, and the lines between work and leisure blur. This is where some of the moralizing comes in, a scene depicting a hellish handjob is particularly dubious, but there's also optimism in the way that this magazine crew promotes an egalitarian, communal unit. References to both hardcore and outlaw country seem suggest that Arnold is hedging her bets regarding the ability for this lifestyle and its related communities to flourish long term, but on the flip-side there's also a sager implication that the underground economy has always been integral to America's identity and will continue to exist in ever changing forms.
So in short, I like this, I have deep reservations, but I'm into this. Good Labeouf, great wardrobe, and as ever, Arnold has a great eye for nonprofessional actors. S/o to that soundtrack one last time!