Thursday, April 27, 2006

Hard Candy

A two actor performance piece about a a deranged and vindictive 14 year-old girl and a pedophile. Yeah…you might say this isn’t exactly for everybody. I saw the film in a mostly empty theater during a press screening and I’m pretty sure I would not want to view it in a crowded one. It’s an intensely uncomfortable experience that never quite justifies what it puts the audience through, but there are points to, well not exactly enjoy, but at least appreciate.

Jeff (Patrick Wilson) is a photographer who has an attraction to underage young girls who he meets online. As the film opens he has made a date with 14 year-old Hayley (Ellen Page) to meet at a local coffee shop. The two rendezvous and talk and eventually go back to his place where they share some more conversation over drinks. Everything seems to be going swimmingly for Jeff until he faints and wakes up tied to his chair with Hayley in control calling him a pervert and a predator.

Hayley proceeds to verbally abuse Jeff as she searches through his house for evidence of child pornography and proof that he’s responsible for the abduction and possible murder of an underage girl from the same coffee shop. Jeff at first can’t comprehend his new condition as this young girl has turned the tables on him and seems to grow crazier the longer this goes on. Hayley even goes so far as to tie him to the table and offer her own solution to his problem by suggesting and performing (guys, prepare to wince) an impromptu circumcision.

The film is not for everyone and truthfully most people will be quite uncomfortable through parts if not all of the film. The issues the film raises are serious ones and it never takes them lightly in Hayley’s search for justice and truth. The problem becomes we never are let into the reasons behind her crazed mission and so she comes off as bad, if not worse, than the child molester (something quite remarkable but not necessarily good for the film).

The performances are outstanding in what amounts to basically a two-man play (in fact I think this material would work much better on stage than in a theater where I don’t think casual observers are going to be comfortable with the subject matter). Ellen Page plays Hayley with a multitude of colors and layers letting us see her childhood innocence and her very adult cynical attitudes that lead to violent outbursts and some shocking actions. Wilson has the uninviable job of making the pedophile the victim of the piece and does well with such a near impossible task.

The film veers off from time to time as events happen and Hayley proves so resilient and intelligent (even clairvoyant at times) that by the end of the film its hard to take her seriously as an actual 14 year-old (or even human for that matter). The film’s length and rather unsatisfying ending may also leave viewers a little cold to a film that although it has a lot to say in the end doesn’t really have a point.

Still the film will illicit a reaction from you the audience member and is different enough with good performances for me to recommend it to people that can stomach the subject matter. Be warned however despite how well it is made it’s not an easy film to take, nor in the end that satisfying of one. And you might want to budget some time afterwards to go home and shower.

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