The opening scene of Candy is remarkable. Our young lovers Dan (Heath Ledger) and Candy (Abbie Cornish) step into a carnival ride sometimes called the Gravitron, in which riders are pressed against the walls by the swiftly spinning machine's centrifugal force. The camera elegantly captures Dan and Candy's stolen kisses amid the blurred frenzy of the ride, creating a neat metaphor for both young love and, as we will later discover, drug use--dizzy, fast and all-consuming. Based on Luke Davies' novel about the destructive love between two heroin users, Candy packs some punches with its brutal depiction of drug addiction, but like the Gravitron, it never actually travels anywhere.
We meet Dan and Candy in full thrall of heroin and each other, up to nothing except shooting up and making out but convinced they're in heaven. First-time filmmaker Neil Armfield clearly takes joy in flexing his new camera muscles, and finds some beautiful images to capture the subjective thrills of new love and new drugs. Shooting up in a car wash may not be a good idea, but with nice photography and good acting, it sure looks like fun.
Unfortunately, heaven quickly yields to earth, and before you know it you're in hell, as Dan and Candy give in completely to the drugs. The story and the filmmaking stall here, as Candy's stolid parents and Dan's drug-dealer friend Casper (the always-reliable Geoffrey Rush) stand by, helpless to stop the couple's interminable descent into squalor. Anyone who's seen an after-school special about drug use knows what's going to happen next, but the joyful cinematography and love in the afternoon nonetheless give way to the same dank apartments and screaming matches that result whenever drug-addled love goes awry.
Many, many films by now have bluntly depicted the horrors of drug addiction and withdrawal, and while Candy admirably shows every night sweat and track mark, it adds nothing new to the genre. The Trainspotting Award for Most Disturbing Use of a Dead Baby definitely goes to Dan and Candy's stillborn child, but aside from that heartbreaking moment, none of the "shocks" manages to strike a chord.
Ledger, whose mumbles broke a thousand hearts in Brokeback Mountain, is similarly taciturn and excellent as Dan; though Cornish can't match Ledger's talent, she shows an impressive willingness to dig deep into a tough role. The script denies either character an inner life remotely comparable to Ennis del Mar's, however, and Dan and Candy never materialize as much more than junkie archetypes.
It may sound jaded to criticize a movie for being too earnest about condemning drug use, but without real characters or a fresh take on drug addiction, Candy has little to recommend it for anyone who's seen The Basketball Diaries or Requiem for a Dream.
The thing about love, drugs, movies and the Gravitron alike is that, even though you're not going anywhere, you feel like you are. Seeing Candy is like watching other people ride the Gravitron while you're standing still--you get that they're feeling something, but you're still stuck on the ground.