We meet Darryl Gant in his car, driving through the dark, ruined streets of Camden, New Jersey.
Philly guys on the radio compare the place to “Robocop’s Detroit” and “I Am Legend,” a ghost town since its Campbell’s Soup, RCA records glory days.
And Darryl? “I’m doing what I always do.” “What,” a friend wants to know, “chasing her around?”
Hasan Oswald’s sad, infuriating and compelling “Higher Love” is about Darryl’s search for his girlfriend of seven years. Nani is a crack addict, for starters. “There’s not any drug Nani won’t do,” Darryl admits. But he loves her. She’s pregnant. And she’s with her “get high buddies.” Can she be saved?
Oswald follows the search from two points of view — Darryl’s and Nani’s. Darryl questions junkies on the pitch-black streets, amid the tumbledown factories of a city whose heyday passed long before Sinatra did. Nani, dolled up and sporting a stoned, Kardashian vocal fry, whines about the names Darryl calls her when she’s on a bender, selling herself for drug money.
“You told me ‘Never give up’ on you,” he says when he finally tracks her down. And he hasn’t. Yet. But even he can see that “I don’t think there will be a happy ending.”
Oswald keeps his camera docu-drama close, capturing Darryl’s concern and Nani’s perpetual daze. He has a decent job and she can’t understand why he won’t finance her addiction. She listens to talk of “vitamins” for the baby she’s carrying and rehab for herself.
But “It sucks to love somebody who don’t love themselves.”
Oswald’s film captures America’s opioid epidemic in its more urban form. White and black addicts and dealers talk about methadone and rehab and let us hear and see how that’s all it may ever be — talk. Darryl eyes the big picture of Camden when he disparages efforts at reviving the city that don’t start with addressing this healthcare crisis first.
“The people have to choose” to turn themselves around before Camden can come back.
The story arc here could confirm or contradict Darryl’s forlorn prediction of no “happy ending.” But as the baby is born the struggle continues anew, Darryl stoically notes that “He didn’t choose his mother, I did,” and that has to guide his thinking from here on out.
As for Camden, the low-level dealer Iman sizes the place up on a snowy afternoon at a local cemetery.
“I know who killed him,” he says, pointing to one tombstone, and then another. It’s a profoundly sad moment in a downbeat documentary that doesn’t have answers, just broken people unable to “choose” what’s best for them and the city whose ruin is both their trap and their responsibility.
MPAA Rating: Unrated, drug abuse, sex work discussions, drinking, smoking, profanity
Cast: Darryl Gant, Nani, Iman, Nikki and Raymond
Credits: Written and directed by Hasan Oswald. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:17