Josh and Benny Safdie often draw comparisons to filmmakers like John Cassavetes for their sluggishly paced realism. In their 2010 film “Daddy Longlegs,” I found this stylistic choice little more than a conceit. Slow, ambling scenes tied together by little more than the whims of life were simply a method of communicating the frequent failures of a single father.
But in the Safdie brother’s latest work, “Heaven Knows What,” that meandering quality feels integral to the experience. The film follows Arielle Holmes as Harley, a fictionalized version of herself, as she experiences various challenges related to homelessness and drug addiction. To have a conventional plot driven by goals and forward motion would feel disingenuous for a world populated by characters whose compulsions have them running in circles.
The movie pulses along as Harley does, from score to score, motivated by nothing little more than getting to the next high. It makes for a unique window into a world rarely seen on screen with any sense of veracity. “Heaven Knows What” allows us not only to stare the depravity of heroin addiction in the face on screen but also to experience the listlessness and danger that comes along with it.
Stripped of sensationalism, the Safdies endow the material with a scrappy, grimy tenacity. Holmes’ story proves a natural match for their aesthetic sensibilities. Hopefully they continue in this vein and reinvigorate the “social problem” drama for the better. B+ /