To the mean grey streets of Manhattan goes Joshua and Ben Safdie’s “Heaven Knows What,” which is convincing as hell. That is in part because it is based on its star’s own life on the streets: The Safdies are said to have met then-19-year-old homeless addict Arielle Holmes while researching another project, and asking her to write up her story, which included an abusive relationship with a fellow street addict named Ilya. Later, when they decided to film it, they asked Holmes to play herself, which is, A, crazy, and, B, crazy good, because it and she work very well.
This is not to say that the time spent in Arielle/Harley’s world is even remotely pleasurable –- it’s like being stuck in a very long Ryan Trecartin video, god help us -– but she has an affecting, almost comforting presence even at her most depressing/annoying/desperate. And she can act – there’s not a moment that feels amateurish. The supporting cast is also fine, especially Caleb Landry Jones, who seems to channel Ilya rather than play him. It’s hard to think of a recent character I both despised and pitied so much.
There is no moral arc here or uplifting moment; we enter this jittery fractured world and gratefully leave it 94 minutes later. But it’s an interesting and memorable ride, with some good and very loud music, like one of those rides you got hitchhiking and wish you hadn’t except for that girl in the front seat whose eyes you can’t stop thinking about.
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RADiUS-TWC is eyeing a second quarter 2015 release for the film.