There’s no shortage of films made about drug addiction. And if they have one thing in common, it’s to make the viewer feel as judgmental as possible. What they never try to be, at least, are feel good films. Requiem for a Dream, Trainspotting, Basketball Diaries, Less Than Zero, and Reefer Madness, not one of those titles — ok, maybe Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical or anything starring Cheech and Chong or friends of Judd Apatow — are meant to glorify drug use. And the autobiographical Heaven Knows What — featuring Arielle Holmes in a life-saving role — is no exception.
We meet homeless/drug addicted Harley (Holmes) begging forgiveness from Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones) on the streets of New York City. What she’s done is never really explained, but Harley is at her wits end to make things right. Eventually, Harley asks if she should kill herself to prove her worth to Ilya and he accepts her proposal, leading her to slit her wrist in public. After getting out of Bellevue, she’s back where she started, scoring drugs from her dealer Mike (Buddy Duress), while trying to keep up with her unrequited love of Ilya. As you can guess, things wind up going south, with everyone’s lives on the line. Even if it’s at their own hands.
Anchor Bay has given Heaven Knows What a gracious transfer. While on a 50GB disc, the film wears its budget on its sleeves. Gritty and realistic, the picture almost takes on a 16mm aesthetic, even though filmed digitally. Not sure if there was some post-work done on it, but it does lend a more theatrical look. Detail is never as razor sharp as you’d expect from a digital shoot, but nothing ever looks exactly out of focus or smeary. There’s also no crush — in some instances the image also looks too bright — or aliasing, although there are a few shots with some slight noise. As for the 2.0 Stereo track, it sounds more lively than you’d expect, probably thanks to being upscaled on my 7.1 system. Dialogue is always clean, with a decent amount of surround use. The only drawback is the lack of any good LFE considering the random use of techno-heavy music. Spanish and English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are also included.
The special features are the more interesting part of the disc. “A Hot Two Weeks—The Making of Heaven Knows What” (17:00) catches us up with Holmes on the set of her next movie (American Honey) where she discusses how life changing and lifesaving it was to be discovered by directors/brothers Ben and Joshua Safdie. Apparently they found her “Russian look” interesting, and even more so when they heard her Jersey accent. The Safdies encouraged her to write about her own life and it wasn’t until later that she admitted to being homeless. We also get to see footage of the real Ilya clowning around, just making the film’s dedication to him the most moving part of the whole endeavor when we learn that he has passed since the film’s production.
A batch of deleted scenes make up the bulk of the remaining features: “Skully’s Move/Harley’s Past” (2:52), “Stooping” (2:21), “Ariel Pink vs. Doug Levinson” (2:15), and “Mike and Harley and the Future” (2:21) just offer up more of the same vagrancy we’ve already seen. An Ariel Pink music video (3:28) is also featured, along with a pre-menu trailer for It Follows.
There is a message buried somewhere in the dumping grounds of Holmes’ fictionalized story, but the directors — along with co-writer Ronald Bronstein adapting Holmes’ book — miss the mark. Whatever they were trying to say comes through more in the special features as we see Holmes rise up to budding actress, leaving behind drug-fueled wastelands. Heaven Knows What definitely isn’t for everyone, but Holmes does give a powerful performance that could be worth a look. As a whole, the film just doesn’t add up to its pieces. With only one interesting special feature, so-so video/audio, and downbeat storyline, the film could find an audience, I’m just not sure who it would be. It definitely has an arthouse feel to it, but even the artsy fartsy crowd won’t find enough to leave a lasting impression.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00YD83RDC]