Arielle Holmes and Buddy Duress in HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT
Courtesy of RADiUS
HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT
2015, 95 minutes
Rated R for drug use throughout, pervasive language, disturbing and violent images, sexuality, and graphic nudity
Review by Joshua Handler
This review was originally published on March 17, 2015 during the SXSW Film Festival.
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.