Jessica Biel stars in this impressive true-crime adaptation
Dramatic reconstructions of true crime stories are all the rage these days, that much we already know. As long-time readers of this site will know I have my problems with this sub-genre.
But now we get another one – Candy, on Disney+. Starring Jessica Biel, it tells the story of Candy Montgomery, a suburban mum living in Wylie, Texas. To tell this intriguing and slow-burn story, we’re back in 1980 and the first thing you notice is that the production design and lighting are spot on.
And right from the get-go, the juxtapositions are rife, especially between that of Candy – an effervescent member of the community, all big personality and passive-aggressive status-loving – and Betty Gore, one of her friends in the community. Candy lives in a bright, busy home, where laughter is commonplace and the noise and energy of children add to the atmosphere. Her home is in stark contrast to Betty’s (Melanie Lynskey) who is struggling with her newborn and a husband who doesn’t seem to care. Her home is darker, full of sickly yellow light and brown hues.
Colours in crime dramas are important. And here, in Candy, colours ably portray where both women are in their lives.
Despite these two women living seemingly different lives, they’re one and the same – trapped in traditional spousal and gender roles, with anger, frustration and drudgery at their heart. Sometimes, just sometimes, this kind of life leads one to snap. And snap Candy Montgomery most assuredly does.
Half-way through the first episode, we see Candy arrive back at her home in a dream-like state – her early-80s curls are wet, blood cascades down her face and a wound gapes on her head. She rushes inside and immediately stuffs her clothes into the washer. This scene is, once again, juxtaposed with shots of her – and her victim’s kids – at a school play.
Candy’s ‘victim’? Her put-upon, vulnerable neighbour Betty, who she allegedly bludgeoned 41 times with an axe. It turns out Candy was having an affair with Betty’s husband Allan. Candy contended that she acted in self-defense after Betty confronted her about the affair.
The trial, of course, caused a sensation in a community that was so cookie-cutter, and there was more uproar after Candy Montgomery was found not guilty.
But up to that point we see how lives and loves can break down. In episodes two and three we flashback to see what drove Candy and Allan (Betty’s husband) to start their affair. In parts it’s unintentionally very funny. Candy, living her life by the (good) book and adept at planning her busy life to the milisecond, begins to think differently when she a) starts to read an erotic novel, and b) finds out one of her friends has begun a new love affair. She wants to know EVERYTHING, and soon her dormant libido becomes a rampant animal. She asks an astonished Allan (after a strangely funny volleyball sequence that contained slo-mo stretching sinews, moustaches, sweat and headbands) if he’d like to have an affair with her. He wasn’t not so sure, but soon PLANNING meetings are taking place – Candy wants to set out boundaries, where they can meet, when they can meet, what the rules are on a piece of paper hanging on the wall.
The subsequent and rather awkward affair is about about as hot as a cup of lukewarm tea.
All the while we get onscreen annotations telling us something bad is going to happen (‘The day she died’ for example), which makes for a curious tonal imbalance – sometimes it’s strange and wry, sometimes it’s overbearingly claustrophobic and creepy. This imbalance is added to by the almost lullaby-like soundtrack. It’s almost like we’re watching a surreal dream.
What is for sure is that Jessica Biel, as Candy, is just very, very good. She captures Candy’s hyper energy, and that smalltown suburban trait of hiding emotions under a patina of positivity, perfectly. Biel, of course, showed this ambiguity in series one of The Sinner.
So Candy, then. Beautifully shot and lit, strikingly edited and directed, and very well acted. A little uneven, but it does deal with emotions that simmer under the surface, and what happens – in this case – when that suppression is lifted.
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