Hard Candy review by Matt Fuerst
The movie starts with a computer screen filling the frame. We are watching a chat session take place in real time. Thonggrrl14 is chatting flirtatiously with LensMan319. It appears as though Thonggrrl14 is a bit on the young side, and LensMan319 has more than a passing interest in her. Thonggrrl14 presses the situation, and the two agree to meet at a local coffee shop ("My older sister can drop me off in an hour."). At the coffee shop we learn of the real age disparity. True to her name, Thonggrrl14, Haley (Ellen Page), is 14. LensMan319, Jeff (Patrick Wilson) is 32. The viewer is immediately backpedaling from the scene, Jeff walks up and introduces himself, with the camera staying close on Haley. Haley invites Jeff to have some of her chocolate cake, and Jeff takes her up, by rubbing the chocolate off her lips. I don't know how you greet someone the first time you meet them, but I think we can all agree that is a pretty intimate move, not to mention the sheer wrongness of the situation.
Haley continues to pursue Jeff very aggressively; eventually convincing him it's a good idea for them to go back to his place. Jeff's house is very stylish, filled with bold colors, minimalist furniture and very clean, sharp lines. His walls are lined with photos of his past models, all young girls right around 14, just like Haley. Haley and Jeff continue to get to know each other. Jeff is very smart, and no lines are crossed (at one point Jeff says something to the effect of "I am very aware of the laws, in my line of work, you have to be.") Haley eventually mixes up some screwdrivers (vodka and Orange Juice) and demands for Jeff to photograph her. We feel the tension mount as we watch this relationship mature forcefully and quickly.
The movie then takes a few twists and turns that I have honestly debated long and hard about going into. My decision is to leave the rest of the movie, which is honestly the bulk of the film, kind of murky. A subplot or two is introduced, but don't mistake Hard Candy, it's a two person film. Reminiscent of a 2 person play brought to the screen, the near entirety of the movie has our two characters locked in a closed environment for the whole time. It may sound boring, but the relationship is riveting. Is Jeff a pedophile? How far will he go with Haley? Has he done this before? What are Haley's motivations? Why is she pushing Jeff so much, almost toying with him? There is a lot more going on than meets the eye for both of our characters.
I am a huge fan of Hard Candy, and I just ask one thing. If you start watching the first 20 minutes, give it some more time to develop. I can completely understand watching the first act, and giving up in frustration. "Good art should make you uncomfortable". The film does change, divert it's course, and play with both the characters and the audience. It's a gutsy move to write such a story, and a gusty move to produce and direct it. It's sure to receive mixed support both theatrically and on video. It's hard to imagine your average nuclear family visiting the local soulless Blockbuster and picking up Hard Candy. It's great that director David Slade and writer Brian Nelson had the fortitude to create such an amazing story and see it through to the end.
The production designer has to be singled out and applauded. Generally, I would say the best set design and location theme is one that is natural. Natural, as in, you don't even notice it because it fits the characters and the situation they are in. However, Hard Candy breaks from this philosophy some. Jeff's environment is filled with bold colors and visually muted, but interesting styling choices. Walls have solid colors, with small color matched picture frames holding the photos of Jeff's nymphs. Jeff's bedroom is a simple, light pink color with a matching dresser. The color choices are really interesting and, I really hesitate to even say this, visually stimulating.
I hate to send you out to the video store with so little information. I know it's a bit of a stretch to have a glowing movie review that talks so little about the movie. I want your first Hard Candy experience to be as genuine as possible. Give a looksie at some of my other reviews, get a feel for some movies I find to be great, and see if they line up with your tastes. I'd recommend Hard Candy for anyone, but I realize not everyone will agree with me.
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