American Honey ★★★★

This movie runs nearly three hours, which is too long less because of its meandering, casual structure (which is a huge part of its appeal) and more because of its periodic leanings into the facile territory of ill-advised love between our heroine (Sasha Lane) and her brutish but all too charming crush (Shia LaBeouf), not that director Andrea Arnold doesn't make those moments look just as strangely gorgeous as the rest of it. But that's the end of my complaints about this wondrously vivid slice of impoverished life, the sort of movie that's such a force of cinematic expression that it can't really be reduced to words -- and apparently wasn't in the first place, as reportedly it barely had a script. The magazine scammers stuck in indentured servitude who knocked on your door and posed as friendly college students out to use your check to help fund this or that are brought to life by an ensemble of disparate young adults made achingly vivid by the actors themselves. The pervasive sadness, the feeling of being an outsider among a tight-knit group, the feeling of being in a tight-knit group, the way life lived on the edge of legitimacy can turn on a dime from reckless endangerment to frivolous hilarity, the unexpected validation of eccentricity, and mostly the sheer act of finding splendor and freedom somewhere in all the stress of a total lack of freedom: it's all there, and it couldn't feel more real or passionately presented. Shooting in her beloved Academy ratio, Arnold and cinematographer Robbie Ryan capture a life lived on the road in fits and starts lovingly, locating transcendence in obscenity and vice versa, always free of judgment or condescension. And once again, Arnold captures better than any other director the way that we use pop music to communicate with each other; I've never been intoxicated by a Lady Antebellum song before and I doubt it will ever happen again, but in this context it could go on forever.

Personal note: back in 2002, I spent one of the worst days of my entire life working for a sketchy sales company, though it was sales by phone rather than door-to-door. I was fired almost immediately but in the time I was there, I saw and felt the dynamic ultimately captured in this film, of people forging connection and clinging to bits and pieces of joy while under the thumb of not just a tyrannical boss (my equivalent to Krystal spent the semi-communal lunch/smoke break informing everyone that she saw everything that went on in the office whether we thought she was looking or not) but a tyrannical system. And they all sang unashamedly along to the radio during every lull in the action, too.