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Tuesday, March 17, 2015


 Arielle Holmes and Buddy Duress in HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT
Courtesy of RADiUS

2015, 95 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Heaven Knows What will have its final screening at SXSW today, March 18.  RADiUS-TWC will release it later this year.

Josh and Benny Safdie's gritty drug addiction drama, Heaven Knows What, is as realistic as it gets.  Based on Arielle Holmes' book, Heaven Knows What tells the story of Harley (Holmes), a young woman living in New York City who is addicted to heroin.  She is also in a relationship with the abusive Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones), a fellow addict.  As her life spirals further and further out of control, the hope of sanity and a normal life seem increasingly out of reach.

From start to finish, Heaven epitomizes the word "uncompromising".  The inherently horrifying subject matter, the disorienting techno score, and the hard realism with which the material is presented are among the many reasons that Heaven Knows What is a rough watch, but frankly, those things truly don't matter because they are all in the service of a film that itself serves a higher cause: Heaven gives a face and a story to those we New Yorkers see on the street every day.  In quite a few scenes, Harley sits on the sidewalk, holds a sign, and asks people for money.  In these scenes, I recognized countless people I see on the street in New York.  While everyone has a different story, I wouldn't be surprised if many matched with Harley's.

Heaven Knows What never judges the characters at its center, no matter how repugnant they can be.  It's the film's humanism combined with Holmes' raw lead performance that make this film the experience that it is.  Holmes' performance goes beyond acting, and the same can be said of the rest of the actors' performances as well.  No one feels as if they're acting.  Holmes has a naturally magnetic screen presence that makes her Harley a character we care for and are willing to stay with through thick and thin.

While one of Heaven's greatest virtues is its meandering, slice-of-life style of storytelling, it also works to its detriment.  Because Harley and her friends start in a bad place and effectively end up in the same one, there's a lack of narrative momentum that occasionally caused my interest to wain in the story.  Additionally, the score sometimes overwhelmed the already-powerful images onscreen, which lessened the film's impact.

Overall, Heaven Knows What is a good film that explores a very real problem that many people face. It's an impressive piece of filmmaking and hopefully marks the beginning of a very long career for Holmes.  While Heaven definitely won't be a crossover hit, there is definitely an audience for this film, and I hope they find it.


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