'Heaven Knows What' Adds New Wrinkles To The Street Junkie Narrative The film slightly fictionalizes the experience of Arielle Holmes, a young homeless addict whom filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie first encountered in Manhattan's Diamond District.
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'Heaven Knows What' Adds New Wrinkles To The Street Junkie Narrative

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'Heaven Knows What' Adds New Wrinkles To The Street Junkie Narrative

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'Heaven Knows What' Adds New Wrinkles To The Street Junkie Narrative

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The title "Mad Love in New York City" makes Arielle Holmes' memoir sound like a fun summer read. It's actually a story of homelessness and heroin addiction. It's inspired a movie called "Heaven Knows What." Bob Mondello has our review.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Harley's life has all the drama and intensity she can cram into it - 19 years old, homeless, a heroin addict in love with another addict who treats her like dirt. Here is the version she writes in a suicide note.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT")

ARIELLE HOLMES: (As Harley) Ilya, dearest, I never wanted to die. I don't know what will become of you now, and I won't ever know if you'll really forgive me. I'll always love you, even in death.

MONDELLO: But Ilya won't read the note. He tears it up, so this is how her big moment plays out in the public library, with her shaggy, sociopathic beloved never once looking up from his computer screen.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT")

HOLMES: (As Harley) Ilya, what can I do for you to forgive me? Would you forgive me if I die?

CALEB LANDRY JONES: (As Ilya) Yes.

HOLMES: (As Harley) OK.

MONDELLO: After panhandling on the street for enough money for razor blades, Harley does her best to die, ending up in Bellevue Hospital in withdrawal, in the psych ward. She'll be back on the streets soon enough, putting new wrinkles in a narrative that you may think you know from other addiction tales. Her back story is the difference. Filmmaking brothers Josh and Benny Safdie first encountered 19-year-old Arielle Holmes when they were working on another film. They realized belatedly that she was homeless and an addict and encouraged her to write about her experiences on the street, which she did, writing mostly in Apple Computer stores around the city. Eventually, she had a manuscript, raw material for a screenplay that slightly fictionalizes her actual experience. The Safdie brothers cast her as her fictionalized self and Caleb Landry Jones, the film's one professional actor, as a scarily magnetic Ilya. They then spent months on the street with the folks Holmes hung out with until they had them comfortable enough around a camera to play junkies and misfits much like themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Character) I only got 10. I need two to get straight, you know, which is understandable.

MONDELLO: As captured by the Safdies, they are persuasive, arresting and fiercely in the moment, whether scamming or shooting up or doing heaven knows what to get by. I'm Bob Mondello.

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