It's hard to make a movie about drug addiction that feels any different or looks any better than genre classics like Drugstore Cowboy, Trainspotting, and the underrated Jesus' Son. Neil Armfield's Candy certainly can't compete with those films, though it isn't completely unoriginal either. Working with Australian poet Luke Davies (who also wrote the novel), Armfield concentrates on the delusions of two married bohemian heroin addicts, played by Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish. They fall in love while fixing together, and at first, drugs are part of the breathless rush of their romance. They're the kind of lovers who can't share a tender kiss without ripping each other's clothes off, and heroin is just one more intimate secret, locking them together in an exalted universe of two. Even on their wedding day, they shoot up and grab some fast food, giggling, "We're the coolest people at McDonald's."
Then comes the inevitable begging, borrowing, stealing, and hooking to support the habit, and the trying to get clean and failing. Then, just when the movie is starting to seem entirely warmed-over, Armfield and Davies concoct a heartbreaking scene where Ledger and Cornish lay together in a hospital bed, cradling their tiny stillborn baby. The filmmakers string together so many keen observations about the druggie life—like Ledger noting that "for every 10 years you've been a junkie, you'll have spent seven of them waiting," and Cornish flipping out when her mother complains that she can't whip cream properly—it's too bad that the spaces between are padded out with a lot of familiar squalor, enacted by two skilled actors trying a little too hard to look like wastrels.
The story clanks along awkwardly, one minute showing Ledger so out of it that he can't carry on a conversation, and the next showing him pulling off a con job so canny that it's hard to believe he's supposed to be the same character. Candy works better when it deals with the particulars of being simultaneously in love and intoxicated, from the intensity of lovemaking under the influence—where everything has to be a little dangerous to have any meaning—to the crushing jealousy when one spouse starts getting high alone. And though it's a well-worn story, Candy does touch on a universal anxiety. For two people basking in the heat of an all-consuming love, what happens when the power gets cut off?