A review of “Heaven Adores You,” a documentary about singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.
If you’re looking for a documentary about the life of Portland singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, you might be better off reading the Wikipedia entry than watching this film. But if you want to take a long bath in Smith’s whispering, introspective, down-tempo music while watching glacial pans of freight trains, steelwork bridges, lonely streets and evergreen trees, this film’s for you.
Visually and musically poetic, “Heaven Adores You” is sometimes as oblique in its omissions as Smith’s songs. How, for example, did a high-school kid move from Texas to Portland? Why does his girlfriend complain that the song “Say Yes” was not delivered under “ideal circumstances”? And why was the guy so damn depressed?
Perhaps Gus Van Sant (whose use of Smith’s “Miss Misery” in “Good Will Hunting” made Smith famous) or girlfriend Jennifer Chiba (present when Elliott apparently stabbed himself to death in 2003) might have provided some insights. But they are not in the film. Nor are any number of other sources who could have filled this movie’s 104 minutes better than the redundant interviews with folks in Smith’s Portland inner circle.
Movie Review ★★½
‘Heaven Adores You,’ a documentary directed by Nickolas Rossi. 104 minutes. Not rated. Northwest Film Forum, through May 26.
In fact, what this oddly parochial film seems to want to achieve is to somehow “claim” Smith for Portland — director Nickolas Rossi attended Portland State University — as a kind of analog for Seattle’s Kurt Cobain, especially in the way it elaborates (albeit interestingly) on the punk scene Smith came up in. But in fact Smith had moved on — geographically to New York and Los Angeles — and artistically to a higher rung.
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There are some valuable insights. Photographer Autumn de Wilde notes, for example, that people were shocked when they heard the gossamer beauty of that voice emerge from such a rugged face. And the closing scene of Smith rolling over the wild chromaticism of “Everything Means Nothing To Me” at the piano is heartbreakingly beautiful.
But that’s fitting for a film that makes a lovely introduction to Smith’s music but a lousy account of his life.