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You don't go to a drama about heroin addicts expecting to laugh, but it's hard not to chuckle during the new film Candy, at least when Heath Ledger's Dan is trying to justify why he won't turn tricks to finance his smack habit. "Come on ... you know I'd be no good at that gay stuff," he whines, uncomfortable in his own skin--and clued-in audiences titter. Of course, it's precisely because Ledger has been so good at that "gay stuff' that Candy is seeing a North American release. His career revived thanks to his bravura turn in Brokeback Mountain, this is Ledger's chance to prove himself as no fluke, and though I don't expect Candy to set art houses aflame, I do expect it to confirm Ledger's status as a major talent.

In this Aussie drama from director Neil Armfield, Ledger plays Dan as a man with two dueling passions: one for his junkie girlfriend Candy (Abbie Cornish, who's got the sort of smooth cheeks and perky breasts I know I associate with heroin use), and one for the drugs he's dealt from indulgent gay professor Casper (Geoffrey Rush). It's a testament to Ledger's charm and wit as an actor that he makes this character so sympathetic; though Dan is obviously a bad influence on the solidly middle-class Candy, it's him you feel bad for when she finally starts to pull away.

Of course, some of this is attributable to the fact that though Candy is purportedly a love triangle between "a hero, a heroine, and heroin," it's named after its least interesting member. Alleged Ryan Phillippe poacher Cornish bares all and turns in a committed performance, but Candy's a thin role, and the film's second unintended laugh comes late in the game when she accuses Dan of thwarting her progress as a painter. Never mind that we haven't seen her pick up a paintbrush during the entire picture or that "painter" seems to be the job description of many a generic female love interest these days (at least when they're in their twenties--to paraphrase Paul Rudnick, at 30 they become "art restorers" and at 40 they breeze into scenes exclaiming, "Tough day at the gallery"). Candy simply doesn't seem to have much depth outside of her smack-fueled tantrums. When she breaks down, pulls out a tube of lipstick, and paints poetic accusations on every wall of her house, it's a triumph of art direction, not character development.

Candy, however, is a masterpiece of complexity compared to the underwritten caricatures traipsing through Emilio Estevez's latest star-studded directorial effort, Bobby. Estevez has his heart in the right place, attempting to evoke the spirit of 1968 by following a sprawling ensemble on the night Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was shot, but the turgid result actually leaves you looking forward to the assassination.

That sort of jaded take on things isn't permitted in Estevez's world--in the film's press notes he remarks that "from that moment of June 6, 1968 on, it seemed we became more and more cynical and resigned, and I think it's a big part of why we are where we are culturally today." However, it's hard not to feel resigned when subjected to this film's lame, self-consciously knowing approach to American history--as when Martin Sheen chides Helen Hunt for "buying a painting of a soup can" or when a campaign volunteer makes sure to end his superfluous explanation of how to fill out a ballot with a "prescient" beat about chads. What is this, The Wedding Singer? Hey, Emilio, get out of my Van Halen T-shirt before you jinx the band and they break up! I'll admit that there's a good Sharon Stone performance here, and the RFK footage sprinkled liberally throughout left me inspired, but mainly it made me want to watch a documentary on the man, or some film--any other film--but Bobby.

The poster for the new film Venus is startling: a head shot of Peter O'Toole that could at best be called unflattering, his eyes glazed over and the actor looking every bit and then some of his 74 years. That's a poster that never could have come out of the reductive, Weinstein-headed Miramax, and I'm glad it didn't, because it's honest about the film in a way the film itself is honest about age.

O'Toole plays an ersatz sugar daddy, trading trinkets and opera trips to his friend's young grand-niece in exchange for the occasional sniff of her neck (or, in one memorable case, her nether regions). It'd be easy to make this story about the lessons they both learn, but instead, scripted by Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette), it's an intelligent treatise on the ruthless nature of youth--and the old-timers who miss it.

Altogether more conventional is Breaking and Entering, Anthony Minghella's third Jude Law starrer and his first original screenplay since Truly, Madly, Deeply. Law plays a wealthy, married architect whose life is turned upside down by a break-in (and later, an affair), but the ostensible chaos that ensues is just as well-mannered as what came before. It's also hard to root for the distracted, selfish Law when he neglects his family for a dispassionate pas de deux with Juliette Binoche (miscast but forceful as a Bosnian refugee). I don't mind it when the lead characters are assholes--I just mind it when they aren't interesting ones.
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Author:Buchanan, Kyle
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Dec 19, 2006
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