Life, love and addiction make a mostly bitter, but occasionally sweet, concoction in Oz drama "Candy," which is sometimes hard to swallow. Despite a fine perf by Abbie Cornish ("Somersault") in the title role, film belongs to Heath Ledger in terms of narrative and identification. Prospects of limited international arthouse success will be boosted if film scores any prizes in Berlin competish.
Adapted from a novel by co-scripter Luke Davies, pic reps the end of a 15-year cinematic hiatus for Oz legit director Neil Armfield ("Twelfth Night," "The Castanet Club"), who also serves as co- writer.
Wannabe poet and intravenous heroin user Dan (Ledger) is freshly in love with Candy (Cornish), a blond Botticelli angel with a yen for painting. As film begins, the lovebirds enjoy a trip on the Rotor, a spinning amusement park ride (and obvious metaphor) that pushes people to the circular wall with centrifugal force. As a heroin sniffer, Candy is just gaining momentum in her drug habit: After the opening credits, she bullies her b.f. into letting her inject, too. Despite a near overdose, Candy's first words after being revived by Dan are: "Let's have some more."
For Dan and Candy, their mutual intoxication leads to a spree of sex, shoplifting and smack that sees her produce a single painting entitled "The Afternoon of Extravagant Delight."
Egging on their addiction is Casper (Geoffrey Rush, typically superb), a gay chemistry prof and indulgent father figure who can always be counted on for free drugs or spare cash. Less enamored of their lifestyle are Candy's parents (Noni Hazlehurst and Tony Martin, both playing well in underwritten roles), who blame Dan for their daughter's narcotic needs.
Script charts the young couple's mutual decline and intermittent efforts to kick the habit. A cold-turkey sequence and a subsequent still-birth may prove too intense for some auds.
Despite a clear three-part structure set out in intertitles ("Heaven," "Earth," "Hell"), pic unevenly lurches from segment to segment and relies heavily on the actors to regain the script's lost rhythm.
Erratic mood swings are an inescapable element of junkiedom, but sudden shifts in behavior and narrative are too awkward to be explained away by addictive madness. Likewise, some dialogue is a little pat. Finale similarly misses the emotional vein it wishes to tap, and the air of tragedy and triumph seems forced.
Ledger convincingly adds to his repertoire with a warm depiction of the charmingly co-dependent Dan who both fuels and fears the addiction of his g.f. Cornish's performance feels like an extension of her "Somersault" debut.
Apart from the oft-used gimmick of an aerial p.o.v. that echoes the opening amusement park ride, Armfield's helming is restrained, allowing the viewer to savor the performances. Gritty look by d.p. Garry Phillips suits the downbeat mood, as do the forlorn pop songs on the soundtrack. Tech credits are generally as tight as a tourniquet.
Camera (color), Garry Phillips; editor, Dany Cooper; music, Paul Charlier; production designer, Robert Cousins; art director, Laurie Faen; sound (Dolby Digital), Mark Blackwell. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 14, 2006. Running time: 108 MIN.