Vincent Lao’s review published on Letterboxd:
Directors Benny and Josh Safdie offers a big slap of reality with this grueling, brutal drama circling around junkies living under the margins of New York City. Heaven Knows What is based on Arielle Holmes’ (who played herself here) unpublished memoir as a homeless teenager while struggling being a heroin addict. The film doesn’t shine a light of what drugs do to people like most ‘drug addiction’ movies, but rather let that ugly truth and reality of our society unfold. More so, the real backstory of the characters makes the viewing impactful and even more uncomfortable to watch.
Breakout star Arielle Holmes is possibly the best thing about this film. You can’t take your eyes off of her. Holmes has already lived and knew the struggle and desperation, and hence the camera absorbs her arresting authenticity and it’s quite moving. It’s an angry, but deeply felt performance. The narrative and the rest of the characters don’t open up or reach out to you, even Holmes, yet somehow their struggle becomes *your* struggle. I think this what the directors want us to feel and experience. Overall, Heaven Knows What doesn’t ask for sympathy or a call for change. It’s a film that knows its aim and that is to show that hopeless, painful truth of our society—and we just have to accept it.