There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Contemporary First World cinema, like contemporary First World existence, tends to be triple-washed, shrink-wrapped, and then sprayed with sanitizing fluid, just to be safe. So it’s hardly surprising that this Down Under junkie romance downplays most of the gamier aspects of intravenous-drug addiction. The movie opens with young lovers Dan (Heath Ledger) and Candy (Abbie Cornish) on a centrifugal playground ride, kissing as the floor drops out from under them. That metaphor for the smack experience is an appropriately antiseptic start to a film that never dares anything so revolting, or revealing, as Trainspotting’s dive into “the filthiest toilet in Scotland.” Although the last of the movie’s three chapters is titled “Hell,” writer-director Neil Armfield (working from co-scripter Luke Davies’ novel) is no Dante. Candy is a would-be artist and Dan an aspiring poet; their puckish older pal Casper (Geoffrey Rush) is a gay chemistry professor who synthesizes a little opiate entertainment when he’s in the mood. Dan is already mainlining when he and Candy begin their “beautiful” relationship, and they’re not dissuaded when she nearly ODs the first time she shoots up. Dan’s parents have already cut him off, and Candy’s (Noni Hazlehurst and Tony Martin) are understandably leery. Candy becomes a hooker, and—hoping to make her lover appreciate her humiliation—suggests that Dan do the same. (There’s an unintentional chuckle when the star of Brokeback Mountain responds, “I’d be hopeless with the gay stuff—you know that.”) Marriage, pregnancy, methadone, a late-night broadcast of Tarkovsky’s The Mirror, and a move to the country don’t make anything better, and eventually somebody dies. Armfield, who’s mostly a theater director, gets fine performances from his cast, although the older supporting actors are more interesting to watch than the two leads. The latter aren’t bad, but it takes more than dirty hair and outbursts of blubbering to evoke the junkie life; most of the time, Cornish seems almost as perky as in A Good Year. But then her performance fits the film. Awash in Tim Buckley and Arvo Pärt, Candy always seems more fashionably melancholy than truly desperate.—Mark Jenkins