The paradox of “American Honey,” an epic tone poem about a youthful band of itinerant hucksters, is that it somehow manages to be both rapturous and dispiriting.

Loosely inspired by a 2007 New York Times article by Ian Urbina on the subculture of roving “mag crews” — groups of teenagers and young adults, many of them runaways and dropouts, who sell magazine subscriptions door-to-door and in the streets — the scripted drama by writer-director Andrea Arnold isn’t quite cinema vérité, although most of the young cast is composed of nonactors, and the style of filmmaking is certainly fly-on-the-wall — with a vengeance.

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The eyes through which we are introduced to the world of “American Honey” belong to Star (Sasha Lane), a somewhat lost and searching Midwesterner who, at the start of the film, chucks what few commitments she has — watching someone else’s kids, it seems, in a dead-end town filed with strip malls — to take up with a mag crew led by the charismatic Jake (Shia LaBeouf), who teaches Star the tricks of the sales trade, which, according to the movie, mainly involve lying.

Star has a moral compass that causes her to balk at these deceptions, but not at becoming romantically involved with Jake, who appears to be something like a sex slave for the crew’s queen-bee overseer, played with sleepy-eyed intensity by Elvis Presley’s granddaughter, Riley Keough. Their fraught triangle informs much of the film’s action, such as it is. There isn’t much, honestly: “American Honey” is closer to an exploration of mood than melodrama.

At the same time, Arnold — an outsider seemingly embodied by the openhearted, wide-eyed curiosity of Star — finds room in this broken vision of America not just to dream but to hope. Like the inspiration for its title, there’s a wild sweetness to the people — and maybe even to the land — depicted with breathtaking honesty and raw beauty in “American Honey.”