Candy Review

The critique of the film below is identical to that in my review of the Region 4 release from December 2006. Go to “The DVD” for discussion of the specifics of the Region 2 release and a comparison between the two.

Dan (Heath Ledger) is a poet. Candy Wyatt (Abbie Cornish) is an art student. They are deeply in love with each other, to the dismay of her parents (Tony Martin and Noni Hazlehurst) who disapprove of their bohemian lifestyle. Add heroin to that mix, and you have a recipe for disaster. As Dan’s friend Casper (Geoffrey Rush) says, “When you can stop, you don’t want to. When you want to stop, you can’t.”

Candy, written by director Neil Armfield and Luke Davies from the latter’s novel, is well made and very well acted. But ultimately we’ve been here many times before. It’s the sort of film that goes in for gritty (but “poetic”) realism to disguise the fact that it’s a deeply sentimental story. We’re meant to excuse the central characters because they’re young, good looking and artistically talented – though the latter tends to be taken on trust. And despite the ravages of their lifestyle, which includes fraud and her prostitution (he attempts gay prostitution but doesn’t go through with it) to make enough money for the drugs, they remain good looking to the end. Unfortunately it doesn’t work out like that in real life. And that’s without the pretentious division of the film into three sections, “Heaven”, “Earth” and “Hell”.

Armfield establishes his “poetic” tone from the start with a credits sequence with a version of Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren” over the opening credits. (We hear Buckley’s original over the end credits.) Often using handheld cameras and what looks like a lot of filters in some scenes, Armfield and his DP Garry Phillips create a dislocated, not-quite-real feel that’s certainly appropriate for characters insulated from reality. Neil Armfield had made two previous features, a modern-dress adaptation of Twelfth Night in 1987 and the little-seen The Castanet Club in 1990, with television work in the fifteen years before this film.

Heath Ledger tries very hard as Dan, and the result is one of his best performances as a character it’s ultimately hard to sympathise with. However, the film is dominated by Abbie Cornish, who was so impressive in Somersault and is just as good here. She almost manages to overcome the fact that the film (which is narrated by Dan and squarely from his point of view) views her character from outside. There’s one big exception to this, a scene where Candy confronts her mother and tells her “I’ve been clenching my fists since I was six years old”, an explosive moment that threatens to blow the rest of the film apart. Geoffrey Rush is good fun as Dan’s gay friend, supplier and surrogate father figure Casper. As for Tony Martin and Noni Hazlehurst, they are two of the best character actors in Australia and they give the film a much-needed anchor in their scenes. Anyone who has seen Strictly Ballroom should note Tara Morice in a small role. Writer Luke Davies appears as a milkman.

Candy is a curate’s egg of a film. There’s certainly plenty of talent involved here, but it’s in the service of a storyline that really doesn’t ring true. It looks great but I didn’t buy it.

This DVD release from the ICA is on a dual-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only.

The DVD transfer is in a ratio of 1.78:1 and anamorphically enhanced. Apart from having its matte opened slightly from the 1.85:1 transfer on the Region 4 edition from Madman, there’s no real difference between the two, as I hope is apparent from the two screengrabs above, both from the opening sequence. The first one is the Region 2, the second the Region 4. So there’s not much to say except to repeat that it’s an excellent transfer with an intentionally slightly soft and lightly grainy pastel look.

Where the Region 4 gives you a choice between Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 soundtrack options, all we have on the Region 2 is a 2.0 (Dolby Surround) mix. The 5.1 wins for clarity and dynamic range, but to be honest there isn’t a lot in it as the 5.1 was never the most immersive of mixes. Both use the surrounds mostly to support the music score and for ambience, and there’s not much in the way of bass. Neither version includes subtitles, which is far more of a shortcoming to my mind.

The major difference between the two versions is in the extras. The main extra is a set of interviews (49:43), in EPK format with a text question followed by the particular person’s answer. The interviewees are Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish, Geoffrey Rush, Neil Armfield, Luke Davies, producers Margaret Fink and Emile Sherman, and production designer Robert Cousins. This item has eight chapter stops, so you can jump to the speaker of your choice. Some of the same interviews are included on the Madman disc, though in a different order and not so many of them (28:28). There, some of Armfield and Davies’s comments overlapped with the commentary; here, as the commentary hasn’t been carried over, that’s not an issue.

Also included are some behind the scenes footage (5:24), mostly dealing with the filming of the opening sequence and the wedding scene. The final extra is the rather effective theatrical trailer (1:42). Unlike the feature presentation, this is anamorphic and in the ratio of 1.85:1.

Comparing this disc with the Australian edition, here in the UK we lose the 5.1 soundtrack, the commentary, some deleted scenes, “Candy’s poem in motion”, a stills gallery and a PDF study guide. In its place, we have more interviews and some behind the scenes footage. On balance, the Region 4 wins but there’s not a great deal in it, depending on how much of a stickler you are for 5.1 soundtracks and extras.

Candy was nominated for eight Australian Film Institute Awards, with nods for Best Film, its editing and production design and for the performances of Ledger, Cornish, Rush and Hazlehurst. Oddly, Neil Armfield’s direction failed to make the cut. The only one it won was for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Quite a few people liked Candy more than I did, and even though I don’tcare much for it, it’s well made and acted and worth a look for those reasons. Heath Ledger fans will certainly want to see it. With this film and Somersault, Abbie Cornish has made a strong impression in a short time: she’s beginning to make appearances ininternational films such as A Good Year. There’s not a lot to choose between this Region 2 edition and the Australian Region 4 disc, so it will come down to availability and price.

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