Friday, April 14, 2006

Hard Candy - Movie Review

Hard Candy 2006

Maybe I’ll meet someone
And make him mine
Me, I’ll be just
Fine and dandy
Lord it's like a hard candy Christmas
I'm barely getting through tomorrow
But still I won't let
Sorrow bring me way down
”- from “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Hard Candy” details an encounter between a handsome charming thirtysomething year old single man and a spunky fourteen year old girl. Now if this were set in Kentucky, you might think it’s just another romantic comedy. It isn’t. For you see the fourteen year old girl has a bit of an agenda if you will, on her mind. She is out to snare herself a real life chat room stalking pedophile, hold him hostage for a bit, snip off his manhood and toss him to the curb. And who can’t relate to that scenario. If we had a dime for every date that ended up with bondage, threats to our mortality and shame – we’d be billionaires.

The script is by Brian Nelson and the direction is by David Slade. We think Mr. Slade should be commended for attempting his best to make the experience a cinematic one, filling the screen with saturated color, carefully arranged set ups and dizzying camerawork. Mr. Nelson needs to attend a writers seminar post haste or get out of the house more. While the set up might have been interesting for a half hour NC-17 episode of “The Twilight Zone”, it can barely sustain an hour and a half movie. What does sustain the mood, anxiety and shrillness throughout are the two central performances, up to a point.

Patrick Wilson is the Broadway heartthrob who racked up two Tony Award nominations for his prancing and strutting, moved on to the glorious HBO mini-series adaptation of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America and attempted to conquer the screen with lead turns in the little seen “The Alamo” and the excruciatingly shrill film version of the Broadway warhorse “The Phantom of the Opera”. Here he is allowed to cut loose the reins and tackle head on every emotion known to man. His performance is not only spot on, it is unabashedly raw and manages to hit all the right notes in a screenplay that is all too often off-key.

Ellen Page as the prepubescent terrorist comes mighty close to a star making turn in her gutsy and vitriolic portrayal. All of seventeen when she filmed the part, she is to be commended for her “beyond-her-years” approach to the role. While we think her passion and technique are without question, she lacks that indefinable extra spark that sets a great actress apart from a solid working actress. The notes are there. The music is not.

And the very talented Sandra Oh turns up briefly to portray a slightly nosy neighbor who may or may not know more than she unveils. An Asian Junior League Gladys Kravitz, if you will. Although, after her scene was over we were left with the feeling that she was only there to provide a moments respite from the central action and ultimately useless to the dramatic flow. Still, nice to see you Sandy!

With the strong performance by Patrick Wilson as Jeff, and the lesser but still impressive turn by Ellen Page as Hayley we had to wonder where the film went wrong. And to this end, we must fall back on our dislike of the scenario and the all too technical focus from the director.

Director David Slade’s visual stylings clearly reflect his music video background. The man does not like to stand still for over two seconds. And while this may have been a logical choice with such a claustrophobic setting as the “victim’s” apartment which dominates the film, it is ultimately too choppy and jostling to inspire the desired sense of dread or terror. If we are too believe that the character of Jeff feels completely trapped in his own home by this wickedly smart and feral young girl, we should not be distracted by the crazed swinging arcs and lighting fast editing moves that continually suggest freedom of movement and vast space. In other words. Hold the fucking camera still for a few minutes, will ya?

As for the screenplay, we understand full well that the nature of online dating and chat rooms have opened up a veritable wolf’s den of pervs out there upon an unsuspecting populace. But if we are to believe some of the more melodramatic moments of the film, it would have been more powerful and commanding to restrict the unbelievable subplots. Although we did enjoy some of the spicy dialogue which landed some well aimed barbs at the current fad of online dating. And whoever is to blame for the horrifically bad visual metaphor of the “Little Red Riding Hood” moment towards the end, should be taken to a lonely shack in the sticks and beaten to death.

There do remain some powerful moments in the film, but we cannot help but think they stem from a very basic human fear of evisceration rather than strong writing and directing. Who would not wince when threatened with a scalpel wielding fourteen year old lecturing you on your sexual proclivities while holding your balls in a vice. And while the notion of a seemingly defenseless young girl being able to physically and mentally turn the tables on a potential predator may seem noble or even heroic in a better screenplay – the underlying manipulations and schemes of Hayley’s are far too contrived to be believed. She sadly emerges to be less and less of a vigilante / heroine and more and more of a “B Horror Movie” mustache twirling ogre who is one “Bwa-ha-ha” knife waving moment away from camp.

And so kids, we must leave you with this morality tale – since clearly this film will not. Patrick Wilson, good. Online sexual predators, bad. Bless you all!

Directed by David Slade
Written by Brian Nelson

Patrick Wilson as Jeff Kohlver
Ellen Page as Hayley Stark
Sandra Oh as Judy Tokuda

Cinematography by Jo Willems
Film Editing by Art Jones
Original Music by Harry Escott & Molly Nyman
Costume Design by Jennifer Johnson
Production Design by Jeremy Reed
Art Direction by Felicity Nove
Set Decoration by Kathryn Holliday


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