Thursday, April 28, 2022

Heaven Knows What


Based on the memoir Mad Love in New York City by Arielle Holmes, Heaven Knows What is the story of a young heroin addict living in the streets of New York City as she deals with an on-again, off-again relationship with a young man while trying to get her next fix. Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie and screenplay by Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein, the film is an exploration of drug addiction and a young woman dealing with her own issues as well as a tumultuous relationship with another junkie. Starring Arielle Holmes, Buddy Duress, Ron “Necro” Braustein, Eleonore Hendricks, Caleb Landry Jones, and Yuri Pleskun. Heaven Knows What is a gripping and evocative film from the Safdie Brothers.

The film follows a young woman who is addicted to heroin as she tries to get her next fix while roaming around New York City as she also contends with her on-again, off-again boyfriend who treats everyone like shit. It is a film that is really the study of a woman who is homeless and needing a fix where she deals with trying to scrounge money for her fix but also contend with her abusive boyfriend. The film’s screenplay by Josh Safdie and Ronal Bronstein is largely straightforward in its narrative yet it focuses on the life of Harley Boggs (Arielle Holmes) as she roams around the city while dealing with the coldness from her boyfriend Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones) to the point that she slashes her wrists in front of him where she goes to the hospital. Following her release, she continues to pursue Ilya but also befriends the low-level dealer Mike (Buddy Duress) by trying to get money and such as well as be around him to get her fix. Throughout the film, Mike questions why Harley continues to be around Ilya who is cold and abusive as he is reluctant to give her heroin though he has to do whatever to continue his business as well as feeding his own addiction.

The direction of Josh and Benny Safdie definitely has a raw quality to the overall presentation as if they’re showcasing everything on location in and around New York City through a form of cinema verite. Yet, it is a style that does give the film that realism it needed to showcase the grit and grime of Harley’s own lifestyle as she would often sit in a place with a sign needing money while would often take part in thefts at convenience stores. There are some wide shots the Safdies use to not just establish certain locations but also wisely avoid notable landmarks of the city by grounding the film in the streets where they use medium shots to play into the characters in certain spots. Notably a scene where Harley and Mike steal some mail to see if they can find something they can make money from as it play into the way junkies and dealers survive.

The Safdies also maintain this sense of desperation of how junkies live and go for their fix as the usage of close-ups play into that desperation including these shots of Harley on a bed with a pink neon light all over her. The film also showcases some graphic moments of violence such as a moment early in the film where Harley cuts herself in front of Ilya to prove her love to him as well as a fight between Ilya and Mike. It is among these moments that do feel real but also in Harley’s own blindness in her love for Ilya even though a lot of what Mike says about him is spot-on as it does play into this cycle of abuse. The third act doesn’t just showcase Harley’s own devotion towards Ilya but also some truths about Ilya as he is someone that can show love but it is only fleeting. Overall, Josh and Benny Safdie craft a mesmerizing yet harrowing film about the life of a heroin addict in the streets of New York City.

Cinematographer Sean Price Williams does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward to play into the air of realism where it is shot with available light for many of its exteriors with bits of lighting for some of the interior/exterior scenes at night. Editors Benny Sadie and Ronald Bronstein do excellent work with the editing as it does have some style in its usage of jump-cuts and other straightforward cuts to play into the drama. Production designer Audrey Turner and art director Blake LaRue do fantastic work with the look of some of the homes that the characters crash at as well as a home where Mike lives in.

Visual effects supervisor Adam Teninbaum does terrific work with some of the film’s visual effects as it largely relates to a key moment late in the film that would play into something big. Sound mixers Evan Mangiamele and Benny Safdie do superb work with the sound as it play into the natural elements of the locations as well as how music is played on a location. The film’s music by Paul Grimstad and Ariel Pink, with additional pieces by Isao Tomita, is incredible for its eerie electronic score that play into some of the dark moments of the film with some somber pieces from Tomita as well as music from Burzum, James Dashow, Headhunterz, and Tangerine Dream for its soundtrack.

The casting by Eleonore Hendricks and Josh Safdie do wonderful work as it feature some notable small roles from Diana Singh as a woman who let Mike and Harley live at her home as long as they pay rent, Yuri Pleskun as a drug dealer named Tommy, Mike Patellis as Mike’s supplier Marcos who gives Harley a motorcycle ride, Aaron Keller as a Hasidic man who gives Harley money to get high, Benjamin Hampton as Mike’s friend Antoine, Eleonore Hendricks as Ilya’s friend Erica who would be a girlfriend to Mike during his break from Harley, and Ron “Necro” Braustein as a friend of Ilya and Harley in Skully who is hoping to help Harley out following her suicide attempt. Buddy Duress is amazing as Mike as a drug dealer who makes Harley his assistant of sorts while also giving her the fix she needs while also having issues with Ilya.

Caleb Landry Jones is brilliant as Ilya as Harley’s on-again, off-again boyfriend who is quite cold and verbally abusive towards her as he is also someone dangerous despite the fact that he does have some love for her. Finally, there’s Arielle Holmes in a phenomenal performance as Harley Boggs as a young heroin addict dealing with a tumultuous relationship as well as her own addiction where she deals with a self-destructive lifestyle and lots of uncertainty as there’s a raw nature to her performance as well as showcase the reality of how junkies live.

Heaven Knows What is a phenomenal film from Josh and Benny Safdie that features a great leading performance from Arielle Holmes. Along with its ensemble cast, gripping character study, raw visuals, and a hypnotic music score and soundtrack. It is a film that explore the life of a drug addict as she deals with trying to find a home and win back her boyfriend despite the fact that he’s cruel to her. In the end, Heaven Knows What is an incredible film from Josh and Benny Safdie.

Safdie Brothers Films: (The Pleasure of Being Robbed) – (Daddy Longlegs) – (Lenny Cooke) – Good Time (2017 film) – (Uncut Gems)

© thevoid99 2022


Brittani Burnham said...

I should go back and watch the Safdies' stuff before Good Time. I haven't seen this one.

thevoid99 said...

I saw it on MUBI a few days ago as I think it's gone now so I'd check other streaming services for the time being. This was my first Safdie Brothers film but I did enjoy it. I am hoping to watch Good Time next month and then see what else I can find from them.