I really wanted to like Candy. After all, it’s not often I get to review a movie bearing my own name. But despite my best efforts to embrace the film, something about it fell short, and I came away feeling somewhat disappointed. Given the strength of the source material it really should have been something special, rather than a solid but unremarkable drama.
Candy is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by acclaimed Australian poet Luke Davies, and details the relationship between the titular Candy, a beautiful young artist, and Dan, her aimless heroin-addict boyfriend. The movie makes some alterations to the story, omitting some scenes and characters, while developing others. Candy’s parents, merely background characters in the novel, have been given a higher profile, and the couple’s heroin-addict friend and mentor, Casper, has also become a more important figure.
The movie follows the couple’s gradual decline – from the first euphoric encounters with heroin, to the descent into prostitution and petty crime, and the inevitable madness and dissolution. It’s a grim tale, and there’s not much in the way of a plot beyond this sketchy outline. Candy and Dan experience the occasional glimmer of hope, a lighter moment or two (thanks mainly to Geoffrey Rush’s Casper), but for the most part it’s pretty desperate stuff.
Candy will remind you of other ‘heroin movies’, however, it has neither the humour of Trainspotting, nor the visual style of Requiem for a Dream, to offset the relentless squalor. Apart from a handful of scenes, the incidents are generally mundane and unspectacular – Candy and Dan shoot up, sit around, steal things, and shoot up some more. In its favour it does offer a more realistic portrayal of the addict’s lifestyle than either of the aforementioned movies. This is due, for the most part, to the fabulous performances of the two young leads – Abbie Cornish as Candy, and Heath Ledger as Dan.
Cornish and Ledger are well supported by Noni Hazelhurst and Tony Martin as Candy’s parents. The few scenes featuring all four actors are among the best in the film (in particular the doomed ‘country lunch’).
There are a few other standout scenes. The sequence detailing Candy and Dan’s efforts to stop taking heroin is appropriately horrific, and the couple’s marriage reception is cringingly awkward (Dan shoots up in the toilet then falls asleep while talking to Candy’s relatives).
The film’s conclusion is one of its weaker points. Unlike the novel, in which Candy and Dan’s relationship just fizzles out over time, the film attempts to end their romance in one dramatic scene. The resulting encounter is somewhat forced and doesn’t quite ring true.
Go and see Candy, if only for the performances of Abbie Cornish and Heath Ledger. It might not be the best film you’ll see this year, nor the most entertaining, but its portrayal of love and addiction is honest, insightful and quite moving.