(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Movie: Heaven Knows What
Where You Can Stream It: Shudder
The Pitch: Before the Safdie brothers convinced Adam Sandler to fight The Weeknd in a club bathroom or made Robert Pattinson dye his hair bleach blond, they directed "Heaven Knows What." This beautiful bummer of a roller coaster ride follows a group of unhoused heroin addicts as they fight, fall in love, and score on the streets of New York. The film's emotional center is Harley, a young woman who will do anything to reconcile with her boyfriend, Ilya. If you've seen any of the Safdie brothers' other films, you know exactly what kind of exhilarating highs and dark lows you're getting yourself into.
Why It's Essential Viewing
"Heaven Knows What" is the type of movie that pulls you into a very specific world and doesn't let you go until you almost feel like you've lived through it yourself. It has big "Toad Road" energy, big "Kids" energy, and it definitely shares a foundation with that classic Smashing Pumpkins video, "Try, Try, Try."
This is to say, if you're emotionally prepared to be emotionally wrecked, then you're ready to watch this movie! The story goes that the Safdie brothers discovered lead actress Arielle Holmes when she herself was an unhoused heroin addict. They persuaded her to write a book about her life experiences, titled "Mad Love in New York City," which heavily inspired "Heaven Knows What."
While this might be Holmes' first acting gig, she is a kinetic force of energy. You can't help but be drawn to her even as she makes questionable decision after questionable decision. Even when you want to look away, her performance is pure pathos. You might be able to divert your eyes, but you're going to feel every single thing she's feeling, whether you want to or not.
Mad Love In New York City
It doesn't hurt that "Heaven Knows What" is filled with moments that capture Holmes in quiet, intimate settings. You spend plenty of time with her while she sleeps on a bus, gets lost in a crowd, and nods off in an apartment. Actually, now that I think about it, there are a ton of sleeping scenes, but don't mistake that for a slow burn — in this film, there's always something going on behind the scenes.
The camerawork doubles up on those feelings of intimacy by keeping the frame tight. You're always in cramped rooms and corners, watching Harley and her group of friends interact up close. In the same way Larry Clark's "Kids" made you feel like a hyperactive city kid bouncing from different neighborhoods to different clubs to different parties, "Heaven Knows What" keeps things so stifled and muted with it's grey-ish neutral color palette and tight camera work, that you really do feel stuck in the bubble of the film. It forecasted the Safdie brothers' interests in rough, focused narratives … And all your indie film friends will be so impressed that you've seen it.
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