Strangers With Candy

Cast:
Amy Sedaris as Geraldine “Jerri” Antonia Blank
Stephen Colbert as Mr. Charles “Chuck” Noblet
Paul Dinello as Mr. Geoffrey Jellineck
Matthew Broderick as Dr. Roger Beekman, Science Teacher
Carlo Alban as Megawatti Sucarnaputri
Maria Thayer as Tammi Littlenut
Dan Hedaya as Guy Blank
Deborah Rush as Sara Blank
David Pasquesi as Stew
Joseph Cross as Derrick Blank
Ian Holm as Dr. Putney
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Henry, Board Of Education
Allison Janney as Alice
Sarah Jessica Parker as Grief Counselor Peggy Callas
Kristen Johnston as Coach Muffy Divers
Todd Oldham as Mr. Oldham, Wood Shop Teacher
Justin Theroux as Mr. Carlo Honklin, Drivers Ed Teacher
Greg Hollimon as Principal Onyx Blackman
Evelyn McGee as Clair Noblet

Directed by Paul Dinello

Summary:
“Strangers With Candy” tries way too hard to be funny, often to the point of being insulting to the intelligence of its own audience. Ultimately, it falters, when it realizes there needs to be an actual story amidst all the gags and one-liners.

Story:
46-year-old ex-junkie and convict Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris) returns home from jail to find her father (Dan Hedaya) in a coma, so she promises to return to high school in hopes he’ll be so proud of her that he’ll wake up. Soon, she learns that Flatpoint High School is different than the high school she remembers, being crueler and more cutthroat than prison, and she has trouble fitting in. After making friends with a few misfits, they get caught up in the competition between two teachers to win the local Science Fair.

Analysis:
Did you ever hear a joke that everyone else finds hilarious and you just don’t get? In many ways, that’s how I felt about the Comedy Central’s sitcom “Strangers With Candy” the creation of Second City members Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert. The movie, which acts as a pseudo-prequel, isn’t that different, as I sat in a screening room filled with people laughing at every line and gag, while I shrugged my shoulders and wondered what I was missing.

Sure, there are a few genuine laughs earned, but for the most part, Sedaris, Dinello and Colbert try too hard to fill every second of the movie with jokes, so what ends up happening is that by the end, you’re tired of laughing and are left numb by the experience. Essentially, it suffers from some of the same issues as Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes’ “Art School Confidential,” which starts off funny, but then gets bogged down in a story that really isn’t that creative or inventive.

After a montage of Jerri in jail, she returns home to discover that things have changed. Her father lays in a coma, while her mother seems to have already moved onto her new butcher boyfriend, “Stew the Meat Man,” and we actually see her return to high school, which makes up the prequel part of the movie. Otherwise, Jeri’s attempts at fitting into high school provides a few laughs, though most of that territory was already well covered on the show.

The movie finally decides to find itself a plot involving a Science Fair that the school has to win in order to keep from being shut down by the Board of Education. In the heat of it is Stephen Colbert’s Chuck Noblet, the history teacher who is having a secret affair with art teacher Geoffrey Jellineck, played by the movie’s director Paul Dinello. Noblet has always been in competition with Matthew Broderick’s Dr. Roger Beekman, the science teacher and a regular Science Fair winner, but when Geoffrey starts working with Roger, the jealous Noblet gets serious about having his team of students win the competition.

It’s a fairly tired premise, which doesn’t offer much to make it clear why it had to be done as a movie. Granted, it’s been so long since I’ve seen the show that I don’t remember any major differences, except that maybe there’s a little more stuff going on outside the school, and of course, more money allows them to do big set pieces like the musical dance numbers used to make the Science Fair exhibits more interesting. (Please don’t ask.)

In general, all of the characters, particularly Jerri Blank, are either mean or clueless, which I guess some people find funny, but it leaves you sitting there wondering why you’re expected to care about any of them. There are some funny sight gags, but far too often, it resorts to homophobic or racist comments to get them, something which not everyone will find amusing.

In concept, Sedaris’ Jerri Blank is a funny enough character, but as far as holding up for an entire movie, she’s only slightly less annoying than Jenny McCarthy. On the other hand, Stephen Colbert really shines in the movie, bringing everything he’s learned from his time on “The Daily Show” and his own show to insure some of the best laughs from his great lines. Paul Dinello basically does the same thing he did on the show.

The trio has assembled a great cast from movies and TV, including a few returning members from the show, but a lot of the guest stars really aren’t given much room to do what they do best. Sarah Jessica Parker barely has five minutes of screen time as a grief counselor and Philip Seymour Hoffman is pretty much wasted as a member of the school board, jealous of the past relationship between his coworker and the school’s principal, played by Gregory Hollimon, who does have a few funny moments. Likewise, it’s always great seeing Sir Ian Holm, but his part as Jeri’s father’s doctor just seems like a waste. Matthew Broderick played a better teacher in Alexander Payne’s “Election,” and he doesn’t do much to make his character very interesting or original.

The Bottom Line:
Presumably, if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll get some sort of enjoyment out of seeing Jerri Blank on the screen again, though there’s nothing about this “prequel” that justifies its existence as a theatrical movie, as opposed to a DVD or a cable follow-up. I honestly don’t think that anyone who hasn’t seen the show will care much either way.

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