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DVD Review - Hard Candy

October 13th, 2006

When Hard Candy first came out it earned mostly positive reviews and started its run in limited release very, very well. However, as it expanded, it couldn't maintain its momentum and while $1 million is a reasonably strong run for a limited release, it is not as good as its opening weekend suggested. Now that it is out on DVD, will it find a second life, or be forgotten?

Spoiler-Free Synopsis:

The film starts with an IM conversation between two people: Lensman319, a.k.a. Jeff, a professional photographer, and Thonggrrrrrl14, a.k.a. Hayley, a 14-year old girl. The conversation quickly becomes inappropriate and they agree to meet for coffee. The flirting intensifies once they meet in person and eventually they agree to return to Jeff's place to listen to some music, and perhaps do a little photography.

And that's all I'm going to say with regards to the synopsis. This is a film that deserves to be seen with as little advanced knowledge as possible.

The next section contains spoilers, click here to skip to the Special Features section.

Movie Review

Before I get into the movie, I have to say that this was a difficult review to write. I wrote many drafts but before I got too far they all seemed to unintentionally veer into the current political scandal, although at this point calling it a scandal seems inadequate. We try to avoid politics here as much as possible since it has become such a toxic issue and this made writing the review much more difficult. But enough whining, onto the movie review.

There are a few structural aspects of this film that stand out immediately, most importantly the intimacy of the film. In many ways Hard Candy feels like a play; this is due in large part to its very confining set (90% of the film takes place in one house), and its small cast (there are only five actors in the whole movie and really only three speaking parts). Because of this, if there were any weaknesses in the script, directing, or acting, they would be magnified a thousand-fold. Fortunately everyone was up to the task.

This is a film that deals with a very serious topic, pedophilia... sort of. Okay, I'm going to let you get a peak into the inner workings of my mind, you might want to turn away. I am very anal when it comes to the definition of words. And in this case, the correct term is actually hebephilia or ephebophilia, which refers to sexual attraction to adolescents while pedophilia, or paedophilia as it is sometimes spelled, refers to sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. In the terms of the story and the moral / legal questions it matters very little, but the improper use of words and their definitions is a real sore point with me. This is amplified since the word pedophile is over used. I've heard people use the term when someone described a 20-year old as attractive. Overuse of a term lessens its impact when it is properly used.

Moving on, with a difficult subject, the script had to be extra tight. People were obviously going to be made uncomfortable and logical flaws, lulls in the native, etc. could be used as an excuse to simple give up on the film and walk away. They don't fall for this peril, but there are a few idiosyncrasies that are bound to turn off a more than a few viewers and biggest of those is the lack of easy answers. Or for that matter, just plain answers. For some reasons most studies think mainstream audiences can't handle movies that don't have clear-cut answers. And they are probably right. However, fans of Independent cinema are used to films that ask more of the viewers. Even so, there were times I was dying to learn more than the film was willing to tell me. The best example of this was when Jeff says to Hayley, "Who are you?" I thought we'd finally learn who she was and what her connection to the missing girl was, but she didn't answer. What a plot tease. I'm willing to bet that is the exact reaction the screenwriter was going for in that scene.

The script, while the single most important piece of any successful film, is not enough; you also need actors who have what it takes to deliver the material. As I stated earlier, there are really only three speaking roles Hayley, Jeff and Judy. And even then Sandra Oh is barely in the movie (but she is fabulous as usual). So it the film is almost entirely up to Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson, neither or which has a wealth of experience in the field. Patrick Wilson was only in a couple of films that made any box office noise before this and at just 17 years old, Ellen Page is at the beginning of her career. Although she actually has more credits to her name so far, mostly in her native Canada. Despite this relative inexperience, both actors where outstanding in their respective roles

Another aspect of the film that really enhances the experience is the lighting and color. In fact, this is one of the first films to put the digital colorist in the opening credits, it's that important to the film. Generally this kind of thing that isn't noticed by moviegoers unless they screw something up, but here it is used to enhance the mood and emphasize emotions. This is something that is normally accomplished with music, but as it is pointed out on one of the audio commentaries, there's only about 9 minutes of music in the entire film. These two points combine to give the film a style that quite unusual and helps grab viewers attention.

Special Features:

Audio commentary tracks:
There are two audio commentary tracks, the more dry and technical track with writer Brian Nelson and director David Slade, and the more casual and conversational track with the two leads,
Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson. That's probably not a fair depiction of them as they are both able to give a great deal of information while remaining very entertaining. There are a few short dead spots as well as some duplication, but hearing the same story from different perspectives is a bonus and not a failing. Both have strong replay value, but I couldn't tell you which one I will listen to more.

Creating Hard Candy - 50:30
A making of featurette that is broken into seven parts. It starts with a spoiler warning, which is rather unique. Not that a making of featurette would give away plot details; unless it is complete fluff, it has to get into details that would be considered spoilers. Like most such featurettes, this one is a mix of talking heads and clips from the movie, but there's also more style here than most. The fifty-minute featurette is densely packed with information and is fully engrossing. There are a couple problems; most importantly there are no subtitles. David Slade, the director, is rather squirrelly during his interview bits. He's often not looking at the camera and tends to mumble on occasion and without subtitles it is sometimes hard to understand him. Still, this is a minor complaint overall and there is serious replay value here.

Conversational Confection: The Soul of Hard Candy - 9:15
A more in-depth look at the characters, the motivations, the plot, as the title says, the very soul of the movie. Again, it starts with a spoiler warning, which is well deserved. One of the subjects they deal with is how many questions this movie leaves you with, granted they don't offer any more answers than the movie does. However, it is interesting to hear them discuss how Independent Cinema is allowed to make these demands of is viewers, to make them think and debate without being spoon-fed easy answers. Mainstream moviemaking could never get away with this because the first test screening would kill the film> I'm not sure why studios rely on test screenings so much. Asking a bunch of average people to rate a movie tends to produce merely average results, or worse.

Deleted and Extended Scenes - 11:00
Six scenes, some where merely extensions / alternate takes all were good cuts. Some were touched on in the audio commentary tracks, but I would have like more information about them, specifically why they were cut. This could have been done with an audio commentary track of their own, or even a simple intro.

Other special features include the trailer and a DVD-Rom script and notebook.

Conclusion:

Hard Candy is a movie that should have never been made, but I mean that in a good way. Everything about it from the difficult topic, to its frank approach, to the way it doesn't give easy answers. Everything about it suggests that it would never see the light of day. Risk adverse producers should have balked at the pedophilia angle, dollar obsessed accounts should have felt there was no market, creatively bankrupt executives should have just not gotten it. There's a whole system set up to feed the same mediocre films to moviegoers every week, but despite all this, the film was made, and I glad it was.

The writing, the acting, the directing were all top-notch and the extras add another layer to the film increasing its replay value dramatically. Overall this is great DVD and one that should be seen by more people. On the other hand, the difficult subject matter and the Independent Cinema feel means most people will want to avoid the movie. Individual tastes will determine which side you fall under.

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Filed under: Video Review, Hard Candy