Rinio Dragasaki’s quirky comedy-drama about an unlikely parent-child relationship means well, but relies on a tiresome trope.
This review is part of our coverage of the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival.
It’s challenging to write a review of a movie that you wanted to like, that you came so close to liking, but it ultimately falls short. Rinio Dragasaki’s Cosmic Candy isn’t a bad movie, per se, but it’s tiresome and often derivative, mixing indie film quirk with feel-good mainstream comedy. When it does work, it makes you long for the movie it could have been, rather than the one it turns out to be.
Anna (Maria Kitsou) is a lonely, troubled supermarket cashier who still lives in the apartment she grew up in, after her parents died years earlier. Her face set in a perpetual worried frown, Anna’s only joy comes from her consumption of Cosmic Candy, a confection which resembles Pop Rocks, and that she loves so much she even dreams of it. Her bleak life is turned upside down when Persa (Magia Pipera), her obnoxious 10 year-old neighbor, latches onto her after her father disappears.
Obeying Persa’s demand that she not get the police involved (or try to track down any relatives who might be able to help), Anna reluctantly slips into the role of surrogate parent. Persa, meanwhile, who doesn’t seem particularly concerned that her father is gone, takes over Anna’s entire apartment, imposes on her at work (where her job is already in jeopardy), and never gives her a moment to herself, even laying on top of her when she’s trying to sleep. Often staring at Anna with a smirk and a knowing look in her eyes, Persa comes off as sinister, and the ease in which she manipulates Anna into essentially pretending to be her mother for outside appearance is a little unsettling. Yet, the audience is supposed to find it heartwarming, particularly when it starts breaking down Anna’s defenses.
There’s a lot to like about Cosmic Candy. Anna is an interesting character, not terribly likable, and manipulative in her own way. Though her addiction to Cosmic Candy ultimately doesn’t come to anything, it’s a fascinating bit of character dimension, as is her refusal to wear the updated version of the supermarket uniform. The supermarket itself is a unique set design, going so heavy on the pastels that it looks like a Barbie playset. Anna’s bizarre dreams add a bit of whimsy to the proceedings, and her anxiety-driven visions of people laughing in mockery at her are all too relatable. The seeds of a good movie are here.
But, man, we do not need any more movies about lonely, depressed people who learn to loosen up and enjoy their lives thanks to a quirky interloper. The only difference here is that the person is a child rather than a love interest, although Anna gets one of those too eventually, in a subplot that also feels forced and implausible, particularly when it’s part of an unearned dramatic second act twist. That a movie with so much potential to be weird and different ultimately becomes yet another labored take on the manic pixie dream girl trope is hugely disappointing.
When it does work, it makes you long for the movie it could have been, rather than the one it turns out to be.
Further exacerbating what just doesn’t sit right about Cosmic Candy is the misconception that all women are naturally maternal, it just takes the right cute kid to bring it out. Maybe it would be different if Persa wasn’t such an awful character, but with a simple rewrite she could easily turn into Rhoda from The Bad Seed. Persa asks intrusive questions, trashes Anna’s apartment, and destroys her belongings, not just asking but demanding that she take care of her. That Anna would eventually find Persa’s don’t-give-a-fuck behavior charming, let alone aspirational, stretches the limit of believability to the breaking point.
There’s some suggestion that the fact that both Anna and Persa have been abandoned by their fathers is the common ground that brings them together. Lots of people lose their parents at a young age, though, and wouldn’t put up with the shit Anna puts up with from Persa. That she doesn’t dump this kid on the doorstep of an orphanage is both commendable, and inexplicable. It’s asking a lot from the audience to go along with it.