In several forms of behavioral therapy, dunking your face into a bath of ice water is taught as a method of alleviating distress. How fitting it is to introduce Anna, the protagonist of Cosmic Candy, with an image of her using this technique contrasted with a sequence of her floating down the aisle of a fantasy supermarket, lined with precisely organized bright colorful bottles, pouring candy into her mouth.
Anna is an eccentric in her 30s, suffering from some cocktail of OCD, depression, and anxiety. Everything in her life must be precise and controlled: her canned meals, the boxes stacked in her apartment containing fitness gear she has never used, her day job at the supermarket, and the store display of her favorite candy. The titular Cosmic Candy is basically pop rocks and the tiny explosions are the most exciting aspect of Anna’s life. Yet no matter how hard one may try – it is impossible to control everything. Finding herself the reluctant babysitter for Persa, the ten-year-old girl who lives next door, Anna is learning this the hard way.
Cosmic Candy is a surprisingly light and fun movie about a mentally ill woman breaking the routines she has developed to protect herself which are keeping her from genuinely enjoying her life. To Anna, her daily behaviors are necessary to manage her anxiety, and without them she will be lost. These activities seem harmless at first glance, but what does giving in to mental illness look like? Becoming reliant on behaviors that only provide stability in the moment but do not facilitate growth or healing is an easy trap to fall into. When is breaking out of a routine a healing experience? When is chaos an agent of healing? We all find our own means to cope, but merely coping should never squash the ability to find a healthy high.
Maria Kitsou gives a darling performance as Anna. A character this tied up with herself would easily grow irritating without the frazzled and endearing clumsiness she brings to the role. There are moments when Anna is caught off-guard, and she looks so pretty. It is like she is denying herself of her own beauty, frustratedly longing for something without any idea what that something is. As she gives in to the adventure with Persa, she is reacquainted with her inner child, that part of her that simply wants to explode. Young actress Pipera Maya is cute and fun, her sequences of crazed playfulness are a delightful ride. That French toast song she sings is a real banger.
While movies about an unpredictable child changing the life of a no-fun adult are a dime a dozen, writer and director Rinio Dragasaki brings a light and feminine twist to the equation. When the story leans into predictable, it makes up for it with elements of sugar-coated fantasy. The film pops with bright pastel colors, peppered with trippy flair. The score sounds as if it was played on toy instruments. And although Cosmic Candy shows us a closed off woman bonding with a little girl, it is devoid of any longing for motherhood that a more generic tale would have been burdened with. Not every film about women must be about motherhood, and I was grateful that this one was focused on returning to youth as a means of healing.
No pun intended; Cosmic Candy is a very sweet movie.