Review by Tom Huddleston
Posted on 06 October 2006
Source ICA 35mm Print
Features: The Times BFI 50th London Film Festival
The narrative template for the addiction movie is, by now, fairly well established. We begin on a high, a group of characters experiencing the first flush of full-fledged drug abuse: colours are brighter, music sweeter, life is good. Then dependence kicks in—unemployment looms, the men turn to petty crime, the women to prostitution. There’s perhaps a good job offer or an unexpected pregnancy, and a vow to get clean. Several days of wall crawling, twitching, trembling and general Oscar chasing ensue. But it doesn’t work—something goes horribly wrong, and our addled heroes descend ever deeper into the underworld. Then the third act: somebody gets clean, the others can’t handle it. They drag him back down. Somebody dies. Lessons are learned. Hard choices are made. Grim realities are faced. The movie ends.
Intended as a more romantic take on the junkie subgenre, Candy sticks to this pattern like glue. At no point in the film do we have to guess what’s coming. This isn’t automatically a drawback—if a story is well told, if the characters are strong, it doesn’t matter whether or not we know the ending. But if they aren’t, the sheer predictability can quickly become a chore. With its three acts labelled ‘Heaven,’ ‘Earth’ and ‘Hell’ to avoid any possible confusion, Candy offers few surprises.
Heath Ledger plays Danny, a shiftless Australian poet and heroin addict madly in love with Abbie Cornish’s luminous title character. We’re not told how long this relationship has been going on, it seems fresh but also familiar; the pair are evidently made for one another. But in their eagerness to share every experience they quickly fall deeper into the junkie lifestyle, and the above events ensue, in achingly conventional fashion. The only shock is that neither of the central characters dies—that’s left to Geoffrey Rush’s character Casper, a likeable, fatherly chemistry professor and occasional user.
Rush’s sporadic presence highlights another problem with the film. Candy was adapted by Luke Davies from his own novel, and his authorly fingerprints are all over it. The most poetic dialogue in the film is found in Ledger’s dreamy voiceovers, which feel like they’ve been lifted directly off the page. And the characters feel sorely underdeveloped—it’s clear Davies knows them intimately, he created them. But he never lets the audience into their heads in any meaningful way—there’s little to these two beyond their roles as junkies and lovers. The incidental characters are similarly vague: Rush’s Casper seems like somebody we’d like to know better, and in the novel he is no doubt a key figure. But the script never gives us any back-story for him, any reason for his kindness towards the two protagonists. His death acts as little more than a punctuation mark, a meaningless tragedy that seems to affect nobody.
The film’s greatest strength is its lead actors, who commit themselves admirably despite the lack of quality material. Abbie Cornish in particular seems destined for great things- her Candy is warm, likeable and genuine, and although her later breakdown is thin and unconvincing Cornish does her best to bring us into the character. Heath Ledger brings a wry humour to Danny making his eventual collapse more affecting, but there’s little of the screen-filling authority he displayed in Brokeback Mountain.
With Candy, director Armfield has created a slick, watchable story, beautifully shot and carefully constructed. But every single aspect of the film feels familiar, from the blessed-out, oversaturated photography of the opening ‘Heaven’ sequences to the bleak, blue-tinted nightmare of the hospital scenes, from the pent up suburban drudgery of Candy’s family home to the urban disarray of Danny’s warehouse flat. Even the title music, Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren,” has been done to death, in Moonlight Mile and Lost Highway among countless others. This ingrained lack of originality makes Candy very hard to enjoy.