Candy Kids

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Directed by Neil Armfield

Sorry, Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman—this year’s Oscar bait has nothing to do with feigning handicaps or precious ugliness. Instead, let’s consider 2006 a repeat of the Year of the Drug Addict. First Ryan Gosling garnered stellar reviews for Half Nelson, then Maggie Gyllenhaal managed the same feat in Sherrybaby. But both of them have been bested by Abbie Cornish’s Australian heroin addict in Candy, which is by far the better film of this drug-addled triumvirate.

Heath Ledger plays Dan, a bohemian poet with an obvious magnetism, who floats through life with his artist girlfriend Candy (Cornish), sometimes mooching off his wealthy, gay professor friend Casper (a wonderfully fey Geoffrey Rush). But heroin, which starts off as a lark between them, eventually begins eating away at their lives as they stagger from ecstasy to misery. Suddenly Dan is robbing men in public restrooms and Candy is working as a prostitute to pay the bills—and things only get worse from there. Ledger is the ostensible star here and gives a wonderfully nuanced performance, but it’s newcomer Cornish (recently touted as the reason Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe split) who sears herself into your memory.

After an endless stream of miserable luck, Candy finally breaks down in the farmhouse in which she and Dan are cleaning themselves up, spending all day scrawling truths, threats and insults on the walls. The entire surreal scene (including a terrifying moment of stillness as Candy watches honey drip from the table to the floor) brings to mind any number of self-destructive, beautiful couples—from F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald to Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. To watch Cornish navigate Candy’s disintegration is an astonishing experience, as she goes from sweet to curdled to unstable by slow degrees. And it’s a testament to her that, instead of feeling irritated by her incredibly poor choices, you want to swoop in and pull her out of the muck she’s struggling in and preserve her for her next great performance.

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