Candy (2006) / Drama-Romance

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but definitely R for pervasive drug use, language, sexuality, and nudity
Running Time: 116 min.

Cast: Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish, Geoffrey Rush, Noni Hazlehurst, Tony Martin
Director: Neil Armfield
Screenplay: Neil Armfield, Luke Davies
Review published July 12, 2006

The title of Candy could be seen as referring to the name of one of the main characters, but it's more appropriate in its slang usage as another name for drugs, and perhaps even sex.  It's the story of two lovers, Dan (Ledger, Casanova) and Candy (Cornish, Somersault), who go through a typical courtship, except with the added dimension that they are both junkies.  Told in three metaphorical chapters, "Heaven", "Earth", and "Hell", one could easily surmise that, as the saying goes, what goes up shall surely come down.  The highs are only good in the beginning, but when the laughter dies down and the money has evaporated, they discover that it's going to take more than good intentions to get their next fix.

Perhaps it's nothing new in the world of drug addict cinema, but Candy benefits from two stellar performances by Ledger and Cornish, and a more honest approach to the story than most from writer-director Neil Armfield (Twelfth Night).  It's more of a study of a twisted romance than a full-blown story, but even during the slow moments, the superb acting and fine characterizations keeps the tale a compelling one throughout.

The drug of choice here is heroin, supplied initially by their benevolent benefactor, Casper (Rush, Munich), a functional drug addict working as a professor, enjoying the company of Dan and Candy, but wise enough to know that the fun will eventually end for all.  At its core, this is a love story, where a woman and man share an addiction, not only to their drug, but to each other, willing to engage in the hazardous act in order to draw themselves closer, willing to give it up and live cleanly, but only if they can do it together. 

You know where the film is going from the outset, but Armfield delivers it all with a nice visual flare and smart thematic motifs (the cleansing nature of water brings forth feelings of baptism and purity).  Despite living what most would consider rather foul and selfish lives, as portrayed in the film, these are junkies we actually do manage to care for.  Drug abuse, prostitution, theft, and other shameful acts are performed by them, but in the end, we'd rather see them both clean up their act and put it all behind them rather than learn their lessons the hard way.  Unfortunately, life doesn't work that way for most, and it all comes crashing down like expected, but in realistic fashion, morals aren't so much a motivating factor as physical health and mental well-being. 

Films about addicts are difficult to watch, and therefore difficult to recommend.  Candy is one of the easier ones, mostly because the film doesn't overdo the lows to the point where it becomes too tough to bear.  There are some moments that will probably stay with you, such as the birth of their child, heartfelt confrontations with Candy's disappointed parents, and scenes of how depraved the two are willing to be in order to make sure they can score their next high.

Candy is based, somewhat loosely, on the 1997 book of the same name by former heroin addict and writer Luke Davies, which brings forth many truths in the film about the experience, most of which are refreshingly unapologetic.  You don't need someone to point out how wrong a life of drugs is when you can easily see how wasted lives can be. One interesting comment of the film is that if someone is a junkie for ten years, seven of those years are spent in the act of waiting. 

The film as a whole, like the life of the addict, has its ups and downs.  While sometimes starkly realistic in its approach, there are moments when things can get a little cute, such as when a disguised Dan runs a scam at a local bank to score more money, or when a dismayed Candy writes a multicolored, rambling message all over the walls of the apartment.  Moments like this remind us that we're watching a movie, instead of peering into the sordid lives of two destitute and desperate people that are clawing their way back out of their hole every day only to fall right back in.

I don't generally enjoy films about drugs and drug addicts, but Candy manages to overcome its unsavory subject matter by being about something more than moral posturing about a filthy habit. Unlike other notable drug entries like Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream, Candy stays small and personal, a simple love story of two people whose addiction for each other can't seem to compete with the overwhelming addiction of the deadly heroin.  As they eventually find out, there's not enough room for both to coexist, as the tie that initially bound them would be the one that finally threatens to strangle them in the end. 

 Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo