Don’t Know Smack
Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish play unbelievably gorgeous heroin junkies in Candy, a don’t-try-this-at-home melodrama adapted from Australian author Luke Davies’ aptly billed “novel of love and addiction.”
Essentially, the film is Requiem for a Dream with a lot less of that overrated indie’s visual dazzle, though director Neil Armfield does put his smacked-out couple on one of those centrifugally forceful amusement park rides in the first scene in order to suggest that their young lives are, you know, spinning out of control.
Candy‘s whirlwind-carnival metaphor is not quite as tiresome as it sounds. Dizziness, even to the point of nausea, is what we crave from the drug movie but also what we dread in it. Like the gangster movie, the drug movie tempts us with red-hot outlaws and disturbs us with a violent comeuppance both inevitable and well-deserved. Candy contrives to twist that proven formula somewhat, but it’s still a movie in which hell clearly awaits our sexy antiheroes — even more clearly, in this case, given that the first two of the film’s three acts are called “Heaven” and “Earth.”
Suburban Sydney addicts Candy (Cornish) and Dan (Ledger) step off the merry-go-round and get spun at home. The former fixes by needle for the first time while the latter sits nervously at the kitchen table, his head positioned directly in front of the refrigerator’s electrical cord in order for Armfield to illustrate that the guy is indeed wired. Cornish, Nicole Kidmanesque in her elusive, look-but-don’t-touch allure, may have the title role here, but Ledger, so soft-looking that you’d think he was being shot slightly out of focus, is the movie’s real eye candy. Armfield’s ample theater background may help explain his facility in staging an early sex scene so that Ledger’s nude bod can be appreciated from almost every angle. But any director would have to be stupid not to take nearly full advantage of Ledger, the rare young movie actor who’s willing and able to objectify himself in sexual terms and make it read, River Phoenix-style, as the character’s vulnerability more than the performer’s.
No wonder Candy’s turning tricks for cash is presented as what women junkies always do in order to subsidize their dark habits, whereas Dan gets to deliberate over whether to prostitute himself. Ultimately, some man’s lack of nerve — the novelist’s, the director’s or the character’s (but probably not the actor’s) — pushes the desperate junkie into the altogether safer realm of snatching wallets.
Armfield’s candy-colored sets keep things on the implausibly cheery side of surreal until the requisite withdrawal scene, which uses nothing more than a room-sized mattress and a pathetically old TV as props. Any drug movie’s effectiveness can be measured by the strength of its detox, and Candy doesn’t sweeten the cold turkey. Alas, it’s a downward spiral from here in more ways than one. Neither of the addicts makes much sense. He’s supposedly a poet, and she’s allegedly a painter, yet Candy ends up doing all the writing and Dan remains a dependent partner of clinically low self-awareness. You want to blame all that on the junk from the pair’s chemistry-teaching supplier (an unforgivably hammy Geoffrey Rush). But no matter the neo-psychedelic pop soundtrack and occasional double-vision cinematography — dope just can’t account for the film’s fried brain cells.