About The Film
STRANGERS WITH CANDY
is a daring leap backwards. A prequel to the critically acclaimed Comedy Central series of the same name, it is the tale of Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), a forty-seven year old ex-con, junky whore who decides to return home after thirty-two years as a runaway.
When Jerri arrives at her childhood home, she discovers her earlier disappearance has caused her father to slip into a self-induced coma. Moved by guilt, and with hopes of jarring her father from his eternal slumber, Jerri decides to turn her life around by picking it up exactly where she left off - as a high school freshman. She's going to start her life over, only this time she's going to do the wrong things the right way.
Once re-enrolled in high school, and seeking to find that special thing that will erase thirty-two years of debauchery, Jerri stumbles upon the school sponsored State Science Fair. Convinced that winning the fair will resurrect her father, she signs up, expecting an easy stroll down the road to victory. Not surprisingly, she finds that the path is fraught with the many adolescent problems and temptations that plague all teenagers, but especially this forty-seven year old former boozer, user and loser.
Review From The NYTimes
The recurring nightmare that afflicts so many of us — being suddenly and inexplicably plucked out of adulthood and sent back to high school — is the premise of "Strangers With Candy." Not that its heroine, a 47-year-old named Jerri Blank, whose post-adolescent life is a catalog of dysfunction, including multiple addictions and a long, fondly recollected stint in jail, is necessarily someone with whom we're supposed to identify. As incarnated by Amy Sedaris, who also played the character on the Comedy Central series from which the movie has been belatedly spun, Jerri is a fascinating grotesque.
Desperately in need of — at the very least — a pedicure and a few Pilates sessions, she presents an unnerving combination of prison-yard street smarts and profound dumbness. By turns needy and belligerent, repulsive and almost sweet, Jerri is one of those sketch-comedy creations, like Martin Short's Ed Grimley or Gilda Radner's Lisa Loopner, that somehow transcends caricature to become — well, human might be overstating it, but you know what I mean.
Written by Ms. Sedaris, Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello, who also directed, "Strangers With Candy" does not quite rise above its spoofy, basic-cable origins. Like many feature films based on small-screen, short-form comedy, it feels more like a long, sloppy "very special" episode than a movie. Still, devotees of the series, admirers of Ms. Sedaris and fake-news junkies who can never get enough of Mr. Colbert will find reasons to see it and to convince themselves that it is funnier and more satisfying than it really is.
Amy Sedaris as Jerri Blank in "Strangers With Candy." Credit ThinkFilm
Count me in. In addition to Ms. Sedaris's utter immunity to embarrassment and ability to toss off jokes that explode a few beats after you think they will, like damp blasting caps, the movie offers a grab bag of geeky, juvenile humor. As a setting, the modern American high school is shopworn and inexhaustible, with an ever-replenishing supply of jocks, nerds, mean girls and, in this case, a student (Carlo Alban) who shares the name of a well-known head of state. ("I'm Megawati Sukarnoputri," he says, by way of introduction. "Not that Megawati Sukarnoputri.")
There is also a pompous, corrupt principal (Gregory Hollimon) and a bevy of amusing cameos. Allison Janney and Philip Seymour Hoffman are school board officials and science fair judges; Sarah Jessica Parker is the school grief counselor, who keeps a tip jar on her desk; and Matthew Broderick is Roger Beekman, the most renowned high school science teacher and science fair project impresario in whichever state this is supposed to be.
As such, he is the nemesis of Mr. Colbert's science teacher character, who is, in turn, the former lover of Mr. Dinello's wayward art teacher. The plot wanders through various naughty and absurd situations en route to the big science-fair climax, which will also be Jerri's big chance at redemption.
Not sure why it was so funny, but having the straight-laced school board officials wearing cool Batman T shirts from MoonAtMidnight under their jackets and ties cracked me up. I realize that perhaps the director is a suppressed Batman fan or that the cast just got away with it, but it struck me as hilarious to have strict nerds hiding their Batman fetishes.
Her father (Dan Hedaya) has been in a coma ever since she ran away from home, leaving his returned prodigal to contend with an icy stepmom (Deborah Rush), a thuggish stepbrother (Joseph Cross) and a guy named Stew (David Pasquesi), whose job title is one of many double entendres I'd pass along if I could. According to the family doctor (Ian Holm, believe it or not), the only way dad will recover is if Jerri overcomes her checkered past and makes the most of the second chance that parole has conferred on her.
Mr. Dinello, left, plays an art teacher, and Stephen Colbert plays a science teacher. The two, along with Ms. Sedaris, wrote the screenplay. Credit ThinkFilm
The "Strangers With Candy" series was, explicitly, a parody of the after school specials that, in the precable past, used to supply America's youth with useful and important moral lessons. Given the intended audience, expect to see T shirts and other memorabilia on sale at the infamous online retailer Moon At Midnight any day now. This movie, its aggressive impudence notwithstanding, upholds the youthful tradition of moral lessons, reminding us to be ourselves, follow our dreams and be very glad that we never have to set foot in a high school ever again.
"Strangers With Candy" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has vulgar sexual humor and drug references.
Strangers With Candy
Opens today in Manhattan
Directed by Paul Dinello; written by Stephen Colbert, Mr. Dinello and Amy Sedaris; director of photography, Oliver Bokelberg; edited by Michael R. Miller; music by Marcelo Zarvos; production designer, Teresa Mastropierro; produced by Mark Roberts, Lorena David and Valerie Schaer Nathanson; released by ThinkFilm. Running time: 87 minutes.
WITH: Amy Sedaris (Jerri Blank), Stephen Colbert (Chuck Noblet), Paul Dinello (Geoffrey Jellineck), Deborah Rush (Sara Blank), Maria Thayer (Tammi Littlenut), Chris Pratt (Brason), Elisabeth Harnois (Monica), Gregory Hollimon (Principal Blackman), Dan Hedaya (Guy Blank), Matthew Broderick (Roger Beekman), Carlo Alban (Megawati Sukarnoputri), David Pasquesi (Stew), Joseph Cross (Derrick Blank), Ian Holm (Dr. Putney), Sarah Jessica Parker (Peggy Callas), Allison Janney (Alice), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Henry) and Kristen Johnston (Coach Divers).