Thanks to films like Drugstore Cowboy, Trainspotting and Requiem For A Dream , we have a pretty good idea of the general trajectory of drug addiction. One minute, you’re flying higher than a kite on a heady cocktail of illicit pharmaceuticals; the next, you’re up to your eyes in dead bodies, HIV and gangrenous limbs. Though the eponymous heroine of Neil Armsfield’s Aussie drama never descends as far as Jennifer Connolly did in Requiem For A Dream – namely, being violated by a double-cocked dildo in front of a room full of baying perverts – her decline is no less tragic or degrading. Unfortunately, it’s also rather predictable, which initially makes you wonder how much Candy really has to add to this already well-tapped genre.
The answer lies in the fresh-faced appeal of its lead actors, and in the refusal of Armsfield to allow his film’s grim details to overwhelm the tender and touching love story that lies at its heart. Divided into three sections (‘Heaven’, ‘Earth’ and ‘Hell’), this adaptation of the Luke Davies novel takes time in its early stages to show how deeply Ledger’s well-meaning wastrel and Cornish’s beguiling free spirit care for each other and how their bliss is only intensified by the shared ecstasy of heroin. It’s this that makes their inevitable decline into penury, crime and squalor so affecting – as is Candy’s parallel transformation from an angelic paragon of health and vitality into a bitter, vengeful harpy who uses her formidable intellect to lacerate Dan mercilessly.
Viewed as a companion piece to Cate Shortland’s Somersault (2004), Armsfield’s pic offers yet more evidence that Miss Cornish is Australia’s most eye-catching talent since Nicole Kidman. Good as she is, however, she cannot eclipse Ledger – who obviously relishes the opportunity to act in his own accent – or, for that matter, Geoffrey Rush, who is clearly having a ball as a gay chemistry don with both the equipment and expertise to get high on his own supply. Together they inject humour, smarts and class into a tale that’s no less powerful for the retelling.
Poignant, harrowing and impeccably acted, this fine Aussie export brings poetry and pathos to a sadly all-too-familiar story.