Strangers With Candy (ThinkFilm, R)

The movie works because it refuses to take itself seriously.


She's a "boozer, a user, and a loser"-that about sums up the main character, Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), in the big-screen version of Strangers With Candy. While Jerri never utters the infamous catch phrase from the television version, the film does a fantastic job in capturing the spirit and quirkiness of the cult comedy.

The film's plot serves as a prequel to the television show, giving us the back story of why Jerri wanted to return to school in the first place. After her release from prison, Jerri returns home to reunite with her father, whom she learns has suffered a stroke. Jerri has to deal with her evil stepmother (Deborah Rush) and has to find a way to become special-according to her father's doctor-in order to bring her daddy out of his coma. Jerri remembers that her father once told her she was special in high school, so she returns to her alma matter (Flatpoint High School) to begin to reassemble the broken pieces of her tragic life.

The real meat of the plot revolves around the high school's struggles for accreditation. Luckily, there is an upcoming district-wide science fair; if the school can win first place, its worries will be over. Principal Blackman (Greg Hollimon) enlists Roger Beekman (Matthew Broderick)-much to the chagrin of the local science teacher, Chuck Noblet (Stephen Colbert)-to win the fair for him at any cost. The rest of the story follows Jerri as she tries to fit in with her schoolmates and win the science fair for her daddy.

The movie works because it refuses to take itself seriously. Just when the plot starts taking a serious turn, off comes a hilarious one-liner to keep the comedy rolling. For example, one scene finds Jerri peering intently at the science fair sign-up sheet. Her friend, Megawatti Sacarnaputri (Carlo Alban), walks by, asking if she is thinking about joining the science fair. Jerri fires back, "No Magawatti, I'm thinking about pussy." It is this kind of unexpected dialogue that allows the movie to keep the plot light and fun, rather than trying to be something it isn't.

Sedaris is sensational in reprising her role of Jerri Blank. Her brilliant physical comedy mixed with her killer comedic timing allows her to shine without coming off trite. The alluring aspect of Sedaris' performance is how she manages to make Jerri more interesting that she really is. She is able to give this shallow, unintelligent character a sense of depth and vulnerability. Surrounded by a plethora of talented actors, Sedaris could easily get lost or washed out, but the actress actually shines more when sharing the screen with more seasoned actors.

Both Colbert and Broderick turn in their usual outstanding performances: irreverent, hilarious, and engrossing-but that is to be expected of these two fine thespians. And the cameo casting is most impressive. The casting trifecta of Sarah Jessica Parker as grief counselor Peggy Vallas, Allison Janney as Alice, and Kristen Johnson as Coach Muffy Divers gives the film a nice dose of unexpected style and creditability. All three actresses excelled in making the most of their roles without stealing any of Sedaris' thunder.

Under the direction of Paul Dinello-who did a smashing job in reprising his role as art teacher, Geoffrey Jellineck-it's refreshing to see that funny on the small screen can still be funny on the big screen.

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