The Good: Moments of humor, Guest stars
The Bad: Recast roles, Blase plot, No real character development, Repeats many jokes from the television show.
The Basics: At long last, I take in Strangers With Candy and find it to be an unenthusiastic retread of the television series.
It has been a weekend filled with me considering Strangers With Candy. The television show Strangers With Candy (reviewed here!) was a favorite of my ex-wife and when I was on the road with my wife last year, we caught a few minutes of the movie Strangers With Candy. Trying to cheer her up, I decided to get her out the film Strangers With Candy and we sat down to both watch it. She had forgotten about the film and I tried very hard to get enthusiastic about the movie when I was not wild about the show.
Ironically, she laughed less than I did and I actually enjoyed parts of it. Objectively, though, Strangers With Candy is in no way great. In fact, while I laughed quite a bit more at the movie than I expected to, I did not laugh all that much and if the movie was truly doing much different and/or better than the television series did, I would have laughed quite a bit more. While supposedly a prequel to the television series, Strangers With Candy is actually a reworking of the show that combines many of the best elements of the television series in order to make a movie that is barely above the ninety minute minimum threshold for feature films.
Jerri Blank spent thirty-two years on the streets and in prison before abruptly getting out. She returns to her father's house to discover a new stepmother she did not know about and her father in a coma. Jerri's half-brother, Derrick, like her stepmother, treats her terribly and when her father's doctor recommends she become something good to reinvigorate her dad, Jerri goes back to high school. Unfortunately for Jerri, Principal Blackman is under investigation by members of the school board. If he cannot illustrate anything extraordinary in his students, he will go to prison for misappropriating school funds.
The opportunity for Jerri and Blackman to become successful and exhibit a single extraordinary student comes with the regional science fair. Jerri, not scientifically inclined, is teamed up with both the smart Asian and outcast students, while Blackman hires a ringer teacher to get the good-looking students a project that will simply dazzle the judges. As the science fair approaches, Jerri struggles to fit in as an ex-con going to high school.
Strangers With Candy is an exceptionally simple premise and while the movie utilizes many of the most successful jokes from the television series, it frequently lacks the wit or successful ridiculous quality of the television series. In fact, it is rather early on in the movie - when Dr. Putney slides down the banister at the Blank home - that the truly original zany humor is exhausted. After that, most of the humor is simply characters - most notably Jerri's peers, her half-brother, stepmother and stepmother's meat man - insulting Jerri. This is a movie where "fag" and "fatty" and variations thereof are thrown around with alarming frequency.
Unfortunately, the result is not often humor. Instead, it's a series of cruel interpersonal interactions with no genuine character development and thus a rising action leading up to the science fair with no emotional investment for the viewer. As the science fair approaches, much of the best humor comes from Stephen Colbert's character, who loathes Jerri, is competing with the much more successful Roger Beekman and is breaking off his illicit homosexual affair with the art teacher, Geoffrey Jellineck. But even Colbert, in the role tailored to him, is unfortunately forced to reuse his jokes multiple times in the same movie, making them lose their punch and making it difficult to believe the film replays with any reasonable success.
What is astonishing about Strangers With Candy is the volume of truly amazing talent that comes out to participate in this troublingly weak parody of itself. The acting talents of Ian Holm, Allison Janney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Matthew Broderick grace the screen for moments that are either incongruently funny given their celebrity or a waste of their exceptional abilities. Sarah Jessica Parker also appears in the film.
Oddly, in a film that claims to be a prequel, many of the roles are recast - most notably Jerri's father, Guy, and half-brother, Derrick. Moreover, given that Stew was introduced later in the series, his presence in the film robs this of being a true prequel.
As for the acting in Strangers With Candy, the big four - Amy Sedaris (Jerri), Gregory Holliman (Blackman), Paul Dinello (Jellineck) and Colbert (Noblet) - effortlessly fall into the roles they played for the thirty episodes of the series. None of them bring anything new to the characters or performances, so this is more of an homage to their own, earlier work than a truly new or different comedic experience. Their portrayals are simply a continuation of their troubling, melodramatic, effeminate and erratic (respectively) characters they became known for.
The result is a film that is actually less satisfying for those who liked the television series Strangers With Candy as it mashes some of the best jokes from the series into a movie that lacks the satire of the parody of after-school specials the series possessed. As for those approaching the movie before the series . . . the best I can say is that my wife, who loves outrageous comedies, has expressed no desire to see the series since we watched this.
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© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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