Directed by Neil Armfield. Starring Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish, Geoffrey Rush, Tony Martin, Noni Hazlehurst, Tom Budge. (2006, R, 108 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 15, 2006
Junkies, like barn swallows, are patently unthrilling and scrawny and don't live long. Both tend to gravitate toward dim safe havens (West Campus efficiencies, barns), neither is very swift, and rarely does either group have a decent film made about them. While the barn swallow is the national bird of Estonia, the junkie is nodding off on the couch and drooling on the carpet. And despite what Graham Chapman may have said, neither one is particularly adept with coconuts; they're just there, and, barring Trainspotting and William Burroughs' Junky and – ahem – Estonia, it's safe to say that most of us wouldn't mind if they just quit tweeting at us and/or stealing our car stereos. No such luck, though: Candy sports Oscar nominee Ledger and Cornish (of rave-up One Perfect Day) as a narcotized pair of deep-down underers increasingly on the outs with family, reality, and rent. It seems far easier to pen a reasonably engrossing book about the junk lifestyle, or lack thereof – the prose form allows both author and reader to crook a mental arm and embrace the ecstatic dissolution of heroin on the far more negotiable wings of their own imagination. Film has a more difficult time of it, and when you excise the dire comedy of pursuit, purchase, and eventual inhumation in favor of kinda-sorta realism, as Candy does, the end result is almost always a dribbley snooze. Candy, which is adapted from a novel by Luke Davies, is less a smacky shoot-’em-up than a wannabe classical romance, the dog-end of doomed lovers' days gone by. It's neither utterly real nor utterly romantic (heroin, like alcohol, manages to be awfully and unremittingly both), and when the world's most gleeful cadaver (Rush) finally wanders into frame you wonder what the Marquis de Sade would've made of his woozy professorial dealer. Probably a damn snappy codpiece. Candy isn't a total bleach-based washout, though, not with Ledger's smart-stupid schemer at its sticky black core. Playing off the perpetually lovely Cornish, one of the few actresses I can name who radiates some sweet, unknowable inner warmth even in the darkest of roles, Ledger manages to make the pathetic goofy and vice versa. His Dan is a clueless naif in love who finally gets it – but good! – way too late. It's not a Brokeback-meaty role, to be sure, nor is it anywhere near as ridiculously, possibly impossible as anything Irvine Welsh's done in ages – I can't even say it's not yawny with a straight face – but perhaps that's director Armfield's point. Just because you're a poet and in love and jamming spikes in your veins in the deepest downest underer, it doesn't make you Nick Cave. Or even a barn swallow, for that matter.