Candy

dir: Neil Armfield
[img_assist|nid=870|title=You really should have stuck around a bit longer, Heath|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=439]
Based on the novel by Luke Davies, Candy is the story of two junkies in love. And that’s about it. As movies about drug addiction go, Candy is a decent enough offering, although it really doesn’t say much that we haven’t heard many times before.

It hits all the right and predictable notes these stories always cover, because many elements of addiction are universal. Movies like this tend to follow the same path: the good times, the bad times, and then hopefully beating the addiction.

It completely lacks the stylistic excess and overwhelming viciousness of a filthy masterpiece like Trainspotting, and gains the greater credibility for it.

So the characters start off crazy in love, with the drugs being the cherry on top. The drugs inevitably take over their lives and relationship, and destroy everything in their path. The third stage, if the characters are lucky, is their chance at redemption.

Dan (Heath Ledger) and Candy (Abbie Cornish) are young Sydney artistic types who dabble with heroin in the beginning, because they don’t have much else in their lives. They don’t seem to have much else to do apart from have sex, use heroin, write poetry and paint pretty paintings. As their supply of money dwindles, and their addiction grows, they face harder and harder choices.

They start dabbling in petty crime, then more serious crimes and graduate to where the painfully young Candy starts trading sex for money in order to get drugs, which is an almost universal path around the world and through the ages. Dan, who seems pretty lazy, seems happy to let Candy keep working the brothels or the street, despite the fact that Candy hates the work.

As Dan does nothing but sit around and wait for Candy to bring home the money and drugs, she reaches the point where she insists that he should be making a similar sacrifice of his body and dignity. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t seem that keen to put his body on the line, though his investigations are played for laughs.

They have one friend, a chemistry professor called Casper, well played by Geoffrey Rush. He indulges their addiction along with his own, and, through his skills, knows ways to create pure heroin through chemical transformation out of common medicines. He calls the resulting liquid Yellow Jesus. Despite all this, he often urges them to kick the addiction before it consumes them completely.

The daily grind of the addict’s life is well represented. The frantic scrambling to get the money and then the drugs before the withdrawals get too painful is both mundane and harrowing to watch. It is not depicted in a sensationalistic way; if anything it is shown as all too common and desperate.

We hear Dan’s poetry throughout the movie, though it decreases the more drawn-down and ragged their lives become. For both of them, the descent into addiction is not played in the Romantic light of a simultaneous explosion of creativity and artistic ability. The further on they go, the more everything else apart from scoring and using heroin falls by the wayside. These kids aren’t Howard Arkely, Janis Joplin or Samuel Taylor Coleridge. They’re just Dan and Candy, two kids with few options and even less avenues of escape from the corner they have painted themselves into.

Heroin addiction is ugly. Though Abbie Cornish is always cute even at her worst, long time junkies rarely look as healthy as she does throughout the movie. But the mental toll that addiction exacts is well-represented with what she eventually goes through.

Heath Ledger, bless him, looks convincingly like a junkie throughout, but that’s because he looks unhealthy in most of his roles. Like another Australian actor, Guy Pearce, they both always like they’re a bit too much into their characters. You would think that acting like a junkie would be easy, but it’s hard to do it convincingly. Both Cornish and Ledger do the best they can with difficult characterisations and very unlikeable characters, and they do well.

Candy has a difficult relationship with her parents, played by Tony Martin and Noni Hazlehurst. Dan’s parents are completely absent, having had abandoned him. It’s meant to be ironic, in some ways, that Hazlehurst is in a film like Candy (having played a similar role in the recent Little Fish), since she played the lead role in the classic depiction of drug use and addiction from the 70s Monkey Grip.

We are meant to understand that Candy’s fractious relationship with her mother led her into taking refuge in drugs, but that doesn’t really come across that well. The parents do, however, do a remarkable job of representing the carnage that addicts can bring to the lives of their families, who are forced by circumstance to only be able to watch as their children keep falling on the downward spiral.

You could relegate most of the film to being fairly generic for much of its length, but at a particular stage the film becomes absolutely heart-wrenching. It’s difficult to credibly depict characters going through the symptoms of heroin withdrawals without going over the top, and they do well here. But what immediately follows their attempts at cleaning up raises the film, in my eyes, to another level.

The direction, acting and cinematography are well done throughout, and generally the actors fight the urge to overact, even Geoffrey Rush, who usually can’t be controlled. Still, it is hard to recommend such a difficult film to anyone. They exact a toll upon the viewer, with tragedy heaped upon misery, and mundanity heaped upon the generic and standard images of cinematic drug films. Even with the ray of hope at the end.

7 out of 10

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“I wasn’t trying to destroy Candy’s life, I was just trying to make mine better.” – Dan, Candy.

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