Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Now on Netflix: Heaven Knows What (2015)

Heaven Knows What movie poster
Heaven Knows What (2015) - Directed by Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie; Written by Ronald Bronstein, Joshua Safdie; Starring Arielle Holmes, Caleb Landry Jones, Buddy Duress.

By Kenny Howell

Whenever drug addiction is depicted on screen, it's hard to get it just right.

Even when it is done well, like Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, it is still attractive Hollywood actors underneath it all.

That ends up in the lack of grit and grime to the whole world. Drug use, and especially heroin use, can be a hell on Earth from an outsider's perspective. And Directors Ben and Joshua Safdie have perfectly captured that with their new film Heaven Knows What.

Part of the reason that the movie is successful is because it is populated with junkies, centrally Arielle Holmes, whose writings inspired the film. One of the directors met Holmes on the street while researching another movie, and was captivated by her story. She came from a mess of a home that saw her smoking crack for the first time at the age of 12. She moved to New York City as a teen, and there fell in love with another addict named Ilya. All of her stories become the film, and all of the characters, except for Ilya, are played by her actual friends, quite well I might add. The actual Ilya was said to be too volatile to be on the movie, and actually passed away from a drug overdose earlier this year, for which the movie pays tribute.

Like in real life supposedly, Ilya is one of the most captivating loose cannons I can remember in recent films, as the movie kicks off with him egging Arielle (named Harley in the film) to kill herself to prove her sorrow for infidelity. Despite the heinous things he does, Harley is desperately in love with him. Actor Caleb Landry Jones is perfect in the role, and slides right in with the amateur actors well.

The film doesn't necessarily follow a traditional narrative route, it is more just about Harley's journey, which is quite a devastating mess. She does attempt suicide in the beginning, but then goes back to the street begging for money, and drowning herself in heroin and other substances. The unstable nature of her life is further pushed on by her friends, all of which are just as frustratingly disconnected from the real world around them.

Heaven Knows What is hard to watch pretty much all the way through because things seem utterly hopeless for Harley, and that definitely keeps you at a distance. But it might be the most realistic depiction of a junkie's life I have seen, and makes it essential viewing.

Heaven Knows What is now streaming on Netflix.

Rating: ***1/2

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