A movie review of “Heaven Knows What”: A real homeless junkie plays a version of herself in this gritty, indie-film look at heroin-addict life in New York today. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
The novelty of having a real homeless junkie play a version of herself drives “Heaven Knows What,” a gritty character portrait of heroin-addict life in New York today.
The unblinking character study, shot in muted shades of gray, stars recovering addict Arielle Holmes and is based on her memoir. Thanks to its subject and the contributions of electronic-music-artist Tomita to the film’s score, it plays like an awful flashback to an earlier age.
But for kids these days, it’s not just vinyl that they’ve brought back. Heroin is in. Again. And here’s an indie-film era look at what their lives are like.
Movie Review ★★
‘Heaven Knows What,’ with Arielle Holmes, Caleb Landry Jones, Buddy Duress. Directed by Ben Safdie and Joshua Safdie, from a screenplay by Ronald Bronstein and Joshua Safdie, based on a book by Holmes. 94 minutes. Rated R for drug use throughout, pervasive language, disturbing and violent images, sexuality, and graphic nudity. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.
Harley (Holmes) has two great loves. One is Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones). The other is heroin. Neither treats her with a hint of humanity.
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Ilya is a cruel, selfish and childish junkie, laughing as he orders her to buy razor blades and open her veins.
“If you love me, you would’ve killed yourself by now.”
Harley writes him a love letter, gets the razor blades and tries to earn his attention long enough to prove herself to him.
“I’m about to die right now, and I really want you to BE there.”
She survives, endures the hospital and a little rehab. But on getting out, Ilya wants nothing to do with her. She clings to their skinny braggart-bully of a dealer, Mike (Buddy Duress). They drift from fast-food joints where they shoot up in the restrooms, to snowy Central Park, to subway stations and street corners. They beg, steal and live only for their next fix.
Sibling filmmakers Ben and Joshua Safdie, working from a script based on Holmes’ “Mad Love in New York City,” capture a colorful street life of sleepy-eyed stoners, drunks and junkies, prattling on about fights they’ve had, cops they’ve dodged and TV’s “Cosmos.” Random? That’s the very definition of the lifestyle. Harley — heroin thin, blond and about 20 — doesn’t plan for the future.
And truth be told, that’s about it. The filmmakers have contented themselves with the barest bones of a story, which plays like more of a snapshot than a movie.