It's nice, in a way, to see a film about drug addicts in which, for a time at least, the addicts really seem to be enjoying themselves. So it is for the first segment of Neil Armfield
's Candy, appropriately labeled, "Heaven" (later sections take on names of a more fallen nature). The stars in the film's fizzy firmament, Dan and Candy, are played by Heath Ledger
and Abbie Cornish
as just a pair of overgrown kids who can't ever stop with the games, and given their bright and cheery looks -- not to mention an extremely helpful sugar daddy -- why would they want to? As Dan ruefully says in the latter, morose stretches of downward junkie mobility, "We lived on sunlight and candy bars." Who wouldn't want that?
When we first join them, Dan and Candy are living the easy life, lounging around their shabby chic apartment and mooning over each other in a blessed-out stupor. They seem to have enough money to do little else, and when they're hard up, there's always the improbably accommodating sugar daddy Casper (a campy but enjoyable Geoffrey Rush
), who's always good for a spot of cash or dope. He's a ne'er-do-well and (very) occasional poet of lowly charms who has taken up with the younger Candy, whose bourgeois parents make little secret of their disapproval of the union. The fiction they've chosen to believe is that Dan has corrupted their perfect little girl, even though the film's first scene has her begging a reluctant Dan to show her how to shoot up heroin instead of just sniffing it. It's a sign of the film's intelligence that even though we're never quite meant to root for one or the other of this headstrong pair, it's clear that there's a ugly subcurrent to Candy's perfume-counter blonde breeziness. Article continues below
Things get worse, as they do, and the relationship begins to fray. Increasingly hard up for money, the couple resorts more and more to petty thievery before finally going down the old route of prostitution. One particularly wounding scene has Candy selling herself on a whim to a shop owner for 50 bucks while Dan waits in the car. When she comes back afterwards, their roles have almost instantaneously changed, Candy's sunny disposition severely darkened, while Dan's mellow vibe is transformed into sheer powerlessness, unable to say anything but a weak, "I'm sorry." Ledger's naked vulnerability provides much of what works in the darker segments of the film, proving once again that there's little this sometimes underrated actor isn't capable of.
Candy is an Aussie film through and through, starring not just the two eminence graces of the continent's film industry -- Ledger and Rush -- but also one of its newest stars, Cornish, who was such a welcome revelation in Somersault. There's also a certain lack of fuss and appreciation of the natural world that seems to come so strangely easily to Aussie filmmakers. Director Armfield (who has an extensive theater background) coaxes excellent performances from his performers, almost making up for the thinness of the material -- adapted from a novel by Luke Davies. Even if, in the end, Candy has not much new to say about its disaffected junkie lovebirds, it at least understands what it is that puts people like them into this situation. Far too often in film, we see only the aftereffects of addiction, the wasted zombies trying to cop just one more time, and never the hale and hearty beings they once were.