"(R) 3 stars
When you go to the Web site for the movie Strangers With Candy (www.strangerswithcandymovie.com), there is a photo of the lead character, a remarkably unattractive middle-age woman, next to the words, “Enter Me.” The image is gross and the joke is obvious, but damn it, it’s funny. The same is true for the film in general — Strangers With Candy is broad, sloppy and wildly uneven, but damn it, it’s funny.
Bear in mind, of course, that if you attend the movie with a few friends, it is guaranteed that at least one of them will leave the theater shaking their head and grumbling, “I just don’t get it.” If that person turns out to be you, remember, you were warned.
Strangers With Candy is a merciless parody of the message-laden Afternoon Specials that were big in the ’80s, created by Second City Chicago veterans Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert (currently hot as the star of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central), who also star.
The movie is a prequel to the series that premiered on Comedy Central in 1999 and ran for 30 episodes. The premise: Jerri Blank (Sedaris) is a grotesque-looking 47-year-old “boozer, user and a loser,” a recovering ex-con, junkie whore (I’m quoting the Web site here) who attempts to start anew by returning to her childhood home after spending 32 years as a runaway.
At home, with her stepmother (Deborah Rush) and half-brother (Joseph Cross) glaring from the across the room, Jerri is informed by the family doctor (Ian Holm — how weird is that?) that her father (Dan Hedaya) was so distressed when she ran away that he fell into a stress-induced coma.
Hoping to make her father so proud that he will finally wake up, Jerri decides to pick up life where she left off, which means once again becoming a student at Flatpoint High School. Bear in mind, Jerri appears to have learned virtually nothing from her experiences — she is crude, lewd and clueless.
Alas, she will get little support from the school staff, whose collective social skills are only a few notches above hers. Principal Blackman (Gregory Hollimon, a series regular) is a thundering boob, while sensitive art teacher Geoffrey Jellineck (Dinello, who also directs) and born-again fundamentalist science teacher Chuck Noblet (Colbert) are too distracted by their fractured romance to pay much attention to anything else.
So Jerri reluctantly pals up with two fellow students: Megawatti Sacarnaputri (Carlo Alban), a boy who is smitten with her, and Tammi Littlenut (Maria Thayer), a girl who stirs Jerri’s memories of hot, girl-on-girl prison sex.
This being a big screen adaptation of a TV show, it is required that a handful of popular movie and TV actors make appearances, so look for cameos from Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Allison Janney and reigning Academy Award Best Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.
I resisted the Strangers With Candy TV series at first. Watching Amy Sedaris twist her face into a gargoyle-like expression seemed to come from the Jim Carrey so-desperate-for-a-laugh-that-I’ll-do-anything school of comedy. But I liked the secondary characters and hilariously tasteless situations enough to keep watching and eventually came to appreciate Sedaris’ fearlessness and total dedication to her role.
I don’t want to oversell this movie. Strangers With Candy is choppy. Some of the gags die so badly that you half expect to see vultures flying above the screen. But there is almost always something agreeably silly happening on the sidelines and when the jokes work, the pay off is big. Bottom line: I laughed more than I winced, and I did both a lot.