This film caused Appellate Judge Brendan Babish to flashback to earlier, better drug movies.
Our review of Candy (1968) (Blu-ray), published May 13th, 2016, is also available.
More is never enough.
Heath Ledger followed up his widely praised and Oscar-nominated performance in Brokeback Mountain by starring in this intimate Australian film about love and drug addition.
Facts of the Case
Candy is the story of two young, drug-addled lovers: Dan (Ledger), a brooding poet, and the eponymous Candy (Abbie Cornish, Somersault), a struggling painter. In the beginning, drugs are good for giggles and kicks, but soon the two resort to nefarious means (shoplifting, prostitution) to continue the habit. Shortly after a spontaneous decision, the two resolve to go straight, but kicking the habit might be too difficult. In fact, the stress of withdrawal might even cause their relationship to sunder.
For any ardent movie lover, it is going to be near impossible to watch Candy without constantly being reminded of superior, similarly-themed movies. Drugstore Cowboy, Trainspotting, and Jesus' Son (not to mention the slightly tamer, but still brilliant Withnail and I) all cover similar ground, but do so with so much more personality, style, and substance. Watching Candy is almost like watching the NIT tournament while March Madness is still in full swing. Sure, teams in the NIT are talented; Candy is a competent movie. But there is nothing you are going to see here that hasn't been done before, and done better.
That said, while the film has several flaws, there is also much worthy of praise. The film's two leads, Ledger and Cornish, both lose themselves in their roles and deliver compelling performances. Ledger in particular, following a stoic, understated performance in Brokeback Mountain, does a fine job playing a verbose layabout, a man who is easily wounded and wears his pathetic heart on his sleeve. However, the two actors are given little to do with their characters. Dan and Candy stumble around Australia, often in a drug-addled haze, rarely embarking on excursions more grand than a trip to the local McDonald's. And that's when they leave the house at all. This lack of engagement with their surroundings makes Candy reminiscent of an extended improv exercise featuring two young, talented actors who have simply been told: "You're drug addicts and you're in love. And…act."
However, the film acting is severely undermined by the pulchritude of its leads. Ledger does a fair job of dowdying himself up; he's grown long, greasy locks of hair and wears odd, baggy clothing. Though he would be a rather attractive junkie in real life, he could still pass for an addict. But Cornish, who bears a striking resemblance to Nicole Kidman, looks like she could be ready for the cover of Vogue half the time. Granted, there are scenes, particularly during the withdrawal sequence, in which Cornish looks pretty ragged, but still, on the whole, the film seriously compromises its intent to be a gritty depiction of drug addiction when one of the leads is still way out of your league, despite not having had a square meal in about six months.
Then there are the problems with the characters themselves. As a portrayal of drug abuse, the movie does a fairly good job showing the inherent dangers. Dan and Candy find themselves in quite a few financial, legal, and familial pickles throughout the movie. But as a dramatic narrative, Candy fails to engage its audience. In particular, Dan and Candy are not sympathetic, or likable, or endearing, in any way. The similarly-themed Trainspotting has so much personality that the audience is likely to feel sympathy for its characters, or at least concern for them. But barring that, at least we're amused by their actions. In Candy, even when tragedy struck Dan and Candy, I wasn't moved at all, largely because the two of them were dour, lazy drug addicts who brought everything on themselves. Sure, their lives are interesting, especially in a cautionary sort of way, but there is little here that would make me remember them for more than a few days after I saw it.
Still, I don't want to be too disparaging of the movie. Perhaps I focus on the negatives because of the seminal drug-themed movies of the '90s. Candy, with all its many faults, still has some redeeming qualities. As previously mentioned, the acting is strong. Director Neil Armfield—who's come to prominence by way of the Sydney theater scene—employs a great soundtrack (essential in movies about addiction) and striking visuals to create an attractive look for the film. And it's certainly fun to see Geoffrey Rush (Shine) play a gay drug dealer, even though I have no idea what his character's relation to Dan and Candy are (perhaps that's better explained in the novel on which this movie is based).
Ultimately, Candy is a pretty down way to fill an afternoon, both because the story is such a drag, and the film itself is unfulfilling.
Th!nkFilm, my favorite indie distributor, has done a fairly good job with this DVD release. The picture and sound are both clean, and there are some nice extras for fans of the film. Candy's director and writer provide a subdued commentary, and there is also a well-made featurette and visual poem that is featured in the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Perhaps Candy was doomed to fail due to its location. Trainspotting takes place in Scotland; Drugstore Cowboy in the Pacific Northwest; Jesus' Son in the Midwest. The majority of Withnail and I transpires in the dank English countryside. These are dreary locals that both necessitate drug taking, and compound their depressing effects. Candy takes place in beautiful, temperate Australia. Also evidenced in Permanent Midnight, a mediocre drug movie that takes place in Los Angeles, there seems to be something about sunshine and palm trees that conflict with drug dependency. Yeah, there are drug addicts in California, but they tend to be more of the Less Than Zero variety.
I don't really know who to recommend this film to. Anyone who would enjoy it would certainly enjoy any of the previous films I've mentioned much more.
Guilty of treading on already well-traversed ground in a quickly expanding genre.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by director Neil Armfield and writer Luke Davies
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