- Review by Oisín Walsh
Candice O’Brien (Ann Skelly) has a dream. In this dream there is a man. They share a series of kisses in a car. She has this dream during an epileptic attack and she is revived by her friend Martha. Afterwards Candice describes the fantasy man from her dream and tells Martha that she wants to experience it for real. Candice spends her days fantasising about this character until one day, walking alone, she is set upon by a young gang who attempt to kidnap her. Their attempt is foiled when she begins to have another epileptic attack. They panic and flee, all except one man, Jacob (Ryan Lincoln). He revives Candice. Now this is where things get tricky, Candice isn’t struck by the fact that she was nearly kidnapped, instead she believes that Jacob is the man from her dream. She doesn’t seem particularly bothered by the fact that she is alone with someone who had just tried to kidnap her along with a gang of thugs nor does this stop Candice from spending time with him. What follows is a muddled plot of her relationship with Jacob and the gang’s actions in her neighbourhood. I found myself caught between two states during this new film from Irish director Aoife McArdle. One where I couldn’t tell what was happening and the other where I simply couldn’t care less.
The story here seems to be a lesson that reality can’t live up to your dreams. This is hardly a fresh notion and Kissing Candice is not interesting enough to make this tired and worn out message any more stimulating particularly as she only arrives at this realisation in the film’s final moments when any rational audience will probably think the relationship a poor decision after he was involved in her attempted kidnapping. The structure is a disaster. Scenes begin and end abruptly often without anything happening. There is a protracted scene where Martha rudely demands money off what I can only assume is her mother (she calls her Debbie) who continues to watch her programme before finally giving her the cash. Why this scene exists in the film is beyond comprehension as the relationship experiences no development beyond this interaction and it is neither dramatic or comedic and exists in being what the rest of the film could be labelled as: pointless. This scene is only one of many in a film which is so bizarrely edited that it is almost entirely illegible. Occasionally, a scene will begin and be finished off later. At one point, Jacob is teaching Candice how to drive and the narrative proceeds only for the action to return to this scene for Candice to deliver a punchline. It is a jarring and disorienting way for the narrative to play out and it feels more like a mistake than a conscious decision.
Frankly, there is no reason for a relationship to exist between Candice and Jacob as they don’t seem to even like one another. They never succeed in having a meaningful conversation. She likes him because he looks like the man from her dream and his only connection to her appears to be her being epileptic like his brother, who is in prison. The director seems to want us to accept that their relationship is a fact without giving us a reason why. If this is a case of star crossed lovers who are acting on an irrational ineffable attraction to one another it should at least be compelling. That said no other person present in the narrative has any real depth of character or striking personality. Kissing Candice is full of two-dimensional characters who fail to persuade the audience that they are any more than a gallery of soulless husks who succeed only in performing mundane actions like walking, driving, drinking, occasionally talking and almost always smoking. The film almost seems to be subliminally encouraging the audience to take up smoking, at one stage or another each character has a cigarette hanging out of their mouth. Smoking for these characters acts as a substitute for actually having anything interesting to do or say.
The film’s technical aspects are often successful. Kissing Candice is composed with many striking images, the most striking of which feature in Candice’s dreams or drug induced hallucinations where the world at first seems to be perfectly regular but elements then begin to evolve into absurdity until the events can only be taking place in a dream space. The sound design is also effective at creating atmosphere for much of the action. But these technical achievements are not able to sustain the film in the absence of a well-structured narrative and compelling characters.
My review here might seem harsh but watching this film was exhausting, so much so that as I scanned the audience for their own reaction I found one person was fully asleep. The film does not invest in these characters so neither should we, the narrative is dull and lifeless and will leave the audience feeling as empty as the characters which inhabit it. Yes, the film has many pretty images but no, they’re not worth it for this overly long atrocious mess of a film. There are many great Irish films. Kissing Candice will never be one of them.