Heaven Adores You – Review by Emily Elphinstone
Director: Nickolas Dylan Rossi
Stars: Rossie Harris, Jon Brion, Elliott Smith |
Elliott Smith and his music helped create some of the most memorable moments in films like The Royal Tenenbaums, Keeping the Faith, and Good Will Hunting (for which his song ‘Miss Misery’ was nominated for an Oscar); so it seems unsurprising that they take centre stage in new documentary ‘Heaven Adores You’, which has been described as ‘an inquiry’ into his life and music.
However, from the opening it is clear that Elliott Smith would present a challenge for any documentary filmmaker, not least because of his discomfort with media attention throughout his life. Though there are brief insights into his true character (such as telling Celine Dion that he was nervous at the Oscars because ‘she clearly had something she wanted to say’); he always remains at a distance, unable to find even a suitable response when asked where he liked to hang out: “I dunno, Indoors?”
After opening with a brief look at Elliott Smith as we know him best, and mention of the singer’s death aged 33, ‘Heaven Adores You’ goes back to the beginning of Smith’s relationship with music.
Through later interviews and family photos, we learn about Smith teaching himself guitar by recording tapes off the radio, and working out which notes they were playing. From here we move chronologically through his life and work, city by city, and album by album; first in various bands, then eventually moving into a solo career as his particular flavour of music came to the fore. It’s a clear sign of his genius that he was discovered by fellow musicians long before the wider public came to know him.
Smith was notoriously private, describing himself as ‘the wrong kind of person to be a rock star’ in the opening scene of the film, one of the few times we see him interviewed on camera. This leads to the challenge of what to show on screen the rest of the time: There is great audio available: Smith’s radio interviews, a naturally incredible soundtrack, and interviews with the friends and colleagues he spent his time with through the years; but eventually the images of Smith sitting quietly in his trademark beanie and band t-shirt, and endless shots of cityscapes and trees passing by train windows grow tedious, despite their thoughtful reference to his isolated life on the road.
Nikolas Rossi’s film presents an intimate look at Elliot Smith’s life and work, virtually travelling with him from Dallas to Portland, New York, and Los Angeles. But while there is impressive access to some of his closest friends, and favourite places; darker moments like his descent into drug use are only mentioned briefly, and we are given little insight into the final days of his life. ‘Heaven Adores You’ will certainly appeal to Elliott Smith fans, affording them an opportunity to spend more time with one of a number of singers to have died before their time, but don’t expect a tell-all insight into the man behind the music.