13 November 2006 | Flagrant-Baronessa
"Everything we ever did we did with the best of intentions."
What a gripping film this is, not because of the enormous tragedy of its characters, but because of their goodness. Another user suggested ''Trainspotting'' meets ''Romeo + Juliet'' which I believe is an apt summary of Neil Armfield's Aussie gem Candy the kind of film that takes you and shakes you with harrowing bleak portrayals juxtaposed with the euphoric state of romance. Although it is not devoid of faults, the film trumps most other films I've seen this year at the Stockholm Film Festival because of sheer emotional impact.
But Candy opens on a hypnotic note of false security; lovable slacker Dan (Heath Ledger) and bohemian art student Candy (Abbie Cornish) indulge in drug-induced games, smiling, laughing, kissing, even playing with children. In the next scene Candy almost ODs in the bathtub, and the film bravely swoops down and offers us a look at something infinitely more unpleasant: drug addiction. Indeed, 'Candy' was largely being advertised as a romance for reasons I cannot pretend to understand, other than perhaps the shock factor in abandoning gushy romance for a bruised reality. The truth of the matter is that it offers one of the most unflinching looks into seedy junkie lives since Reqiuem For a Dream.
The cast give fine and sometimes even excellent performances. Geoffrey Rush lends his dutiful Aussie charm to the supporting role of an 'accidental mentor' of sorts to Dan and Candy "the father I always wanted, the one who buys you fizzy drinks and candy", remarks Dan in the introduction and we thereby know early on that his character is perhaps not a flawless or ethical one. Ledger is constantly pending between likable and loser in the film, and it is thanks to his apt narrative of events that he remains so well centred in the heart of 'Candy' (which should rightfully be titled 'Dan'). As a clever technique by first-time director Armfield, Ledger's soft-spoken narrative becomes punctured, mercilessly abandoning us in a time when we need it the most when the seedy circumstances become too dire.
But the big surprise is Abbie Cornish who is now regrettably stirring up more buzz with the Phillippe-Witherspoon split than with her remarkably bruised performance as the tragic heroine, Candy. She captures the escalating despair, desperation and nihilism of her character effortlessly and translates it with great emotional transparency. Soon she has resorted to full-time prostitution to get money for hits, and it is just heartrending. In particular there is a poignant and emotional scene with Candy and her father embracing after a shocking bit of news that cements the chaos Dan and Candy have gotten themselves in.
Interestingly enough, 'Candy' is explicitly divided into three titled segments that pop up on the screen: heaven, earth and hell and it does a great job at portraying all three, uninhibitedly navigating the contrasts that form at their transitions. The soft-spoken words, love-making, drug-induced romantic euphoria and intimate caressing of the 'heaven' segment render 'hell' all the more harrowing, although I must remark that I found 'earth' to be by far the most graphic and difficult to watch. This can best be attributed to the scenes in which Dan and Candy try to lose their heroin addictions and lay suffering for days on a mattress, Trainspotting-style.
In the end, 'Candy' remains much like its peers, a cautionary tale of the horrors of drug life and how addiction can mess you up, and mess with relationships. Although there are few discernible flaws that jump out and grab you, the attempted humour simply isn't in-tune and it is needed as a tension-easer at times. Owing to this, Candy sadly offers little light at the end of the tunnel and it is far too easy to lose yourself in the gloom hopelessness. Yet most of this is compensated for by great performances of intrinsically good people that you cannot help rooting for, as Dan says: "Everything we ever did we did with the best of intentions."
8 out of 10