Funded in part via Kickstarter, Heaven Adores You is a film that takes the audience through the life and career of singer songwriter Elliott Smith, through interviews with the man himself, rare footage and interviews with those who knew him, were involved with him and his life before his untimely death in 2003 at the age of 34.
Heaven Adores You goes through Smith’s life in chronological order, weaving together interviews with his friends, band mates and family, and intersplicing this with actual radio and video footage of the man himself. Although the film almost promises to be a look at the Smith that we, as his audience never knew, what is revealed is nothing that we didn’t know already.
Director Nickolas Dylan Rossi seems unwilling to take a deeper look at the life of Elliott Smith – perhaps for fear of speaking ill of the dead – and so focuses on the music, rather than the man who created it. There is little doubt that Smith was a vital part of the Oregon music scene, and was on the cusp of superstardom at the time of his death. Smith’s music as a solo artist is mesmerising and haunting, but there is little in this film that could not have been gleaned from listening to Smith’s music again, or from a little light reading on Wikipedia.
Nickolas Dylan Rossi spends much of the films running time allowing full Smith songs to be played over images of Portland, and while this would have made a fantastic music video, and is a great tribute to Smith, it is hardly the documentary that fans wanted and nor it is one that will introduce new audiences to his music. Instead, Heaven Adores You feels as though it was made with a specific group of admirers, but not necessarily fans in mind, and ends up feeling incredibly unsatisfactory.
In all, Heaven Adores You is a peek behind the curtain of Smith’s music, but there is little to be learned here. The reminder, however, is that it’s time to go and dig out XO and listen to it all again, as it is a beautiful and emotionally engaging album, a feeling that is distinctly lacking from the film. Such a shame.