American Honey ★★★★½

A perfect example of what independent filmmaking can be. For all the qualities I can complement American Honey on (its meditative tone, evocative camera work, utterly raw performances, spellbinding soundtrack) the word that most stands out is "generosity."

This is a generous film. The sort that truly believes in the goodness of its subjects. Hurting, naive, flawed, reckless, and prone to make a few more bad decisions after the credits roll, but good to the core. It tells us that Star will end her journey a wiser person than when she began, and that she'll make it through her circumstances alive. That Jake is more than just a white trash fuck up with a rat tail and cheap suit; or, better, that no one needs to be "more" than anything to be fully alive. That those rowdy kids you see in the parking lot, cursing in front of your children, chugging $3 liquor, blasting hip hop too loudly and pushing too hard -- they aren't Prodigal Sons waiting to be saved in Act III. They're already on the van to salvation, rickety and swerving.

Andrea Arnold observes her mag crew with the delicate touch of an anthropologist. This is a fully-formed tribe of unknown origin, and their rites are sacred and profound. Like Sofia Coppola doing Spring Breakers, or a Mustang set in Middle America, she treats her bruised subjects with a near-perfect blend of naturalism and style; a tactile sort of empathy emanating from the camera. It reveals itself through the endless scenes of an open road, so pat and cliched to an older observer, so genuinely spiritual to a young person living it. Through sex scenes which linger on emotions, not skin, the glint of sunlight practically fogging up the camera. Is it a coincidence that the films I most want to compare this to were all directed by women? Whatever it is, it's a voice I want more of.

After the screening, we had a short Skype Q&A with lead actress Sasha Lane. Her joy was palpable and infectious. She described how Arnold had found her on Spring break, asked her to star in a movie, and took her on a 6-8 week road trip. A white van packed with mostly amateurs, driving through Middle America, making something uncertain and gentle and beautiful.

What a goddamned treasure.