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American Honey

Kids just wanna have fun but the pursuit of reckless abandon comes at a price - virginity, childhood innocence, morality - in Andrea Arnold's mesmerising, naturalistic portrait of disenfranchised youth. Semi-improvised like her previous films Red Road and Fish Tank, American Honey is a bravura study of loneliness, abandonment and sexual awakening, illuminated by director of photography Robbie Ryan's documentary-style camerawork that remains uncomfortably close to characters as their emotional states unravel. This voyeuristic intimacy heightens in the explicit though dramatically necessary sex scenes, which leave nothing to the imagination and are awkwardly fuelled by adrenaline. We know every inch of the actors' bodies by the time the end credits roll. Admittedly, it is a test of endurance to reach that point and Arnold and her editor Joe Bini could have happily trimmed at least 20 minutes. In this instance, you can have far too much of a good thing. Once again, director Arnold has unearthed a dazzling raw talent in lead actress Sasha Lane, who was spotted sunbathing on a beach and was cast without previous experience in front of the camera. This gamble pays off handsomely - Lane burns brightly in every scene, bristling with defiance and vulnerability as her free-spirited character barrels towards the cusp of womanhood at frightening speed. Eighteen-year-old Star (Lane) has been left to care for two young siblings, while her mother implodes on drugs. The children scour dumpsters for discarded food still fit for consumption and at night, Star endures the groping hands of her abusive stepfather. During a sortie to a supermarket, Star encounters a group of fun-loving teenagers led by Jake (Shia LaBeouf), who claims to be the manager of a door-to-door magazine subscription business. "You can make 300 dollars a day if you're good," Jake assures Star. Initially, she isn't convinced by his bluster and haphazard attire, which he jokingly describes as "a little Donald Trumpish". Determined to escape the degradation of home, Star hits the road with Jake and the other kids, including misfit Pagan (Arielle Holmes) and blond prankster Corey (McCaul Lombardi). As they arrive at a motel, Star encounters the business' iron-fisted boss, Krystal (Riley Keough), who only retains youngsters that sell subscriptions by peddling fake sob stories. Failure won't be tolerated. Aside from a bloated running time, American Honey is a technical tour de force that also resonates on a deep emotional level. We feel every sucker punch to Star's destiny and Arnold underscores these pivotal moments with pop and rock hits by the likes of Calvin Harris and Rihanna, Bruce Springsteen and Lady Antebellum. Newcomer Lane delivers a performance of unvarnished, painful honesty that holds our attention, even during the few moments when Star seems to be heading for disaster and we silently consider averting our gaze.