Strangers With Candy Review

Jun 28, 2006 | 11:46am EDT

Strangers with Candy is a prequel to Comedy Central's same-named 1999-2000 series which detailed the ups and (many) downs of Jerri Blank's (Sedaris) twisted after school-special-like saga. Fans of the show are as familiar with Jerri's story as Jerri is with turtlenecks hair gel and the inside of the slammer. But for newbies here's a quick recap: Released from jail at the tender age of 46 ex-junkie Jerri decides to resume her life where she left off--meaning going back to high school. Between courting the cool kids' favor dealing with the animosity of born-again science teacher Chuck Noblet (Stephen Colbert) and lots and lots of uncomfortable flirting Jerri tries to win the state science fair to help rouse her comatose father (Dan Hedaya). All in all it feels a lot like a "very special episode" of the TV show--with slightly better production values. Strangers with Candy is hardly a subtle movie--and neither are its performances. Each character is purposely as exaggerated and over-the-top as possible particularly Jerri herself. Sedaris literally disappears into the part covering up her trim figure and friendly smile with a fat suit and buck teeth. Jerri is at her funniest when her prison past butts heads with her new desire to please and conform. Take for example a pleasant family dinner which degenerates into a fork-stabbing brawl. Strangers co-creators Colbert and Paul Dinello (pals of Sedaris since their early improv days) are stand-outs too; Colbert as always masters the art of seething at perceived slights as Mr. Noblet and Dinello is earnestly demoralizing as perky art teacher Geoffrey Jellineck. The strong supporting cast also includes several familiar faces from the TV show plus Matthew Broderick as a science fair ringer. Dinello--who co-wrote the movie with Sedaris and Colbert--took the director's chair for the Strangers feature and he does the trio's baby proud. Despite the fact that some roles were recast with new actors for the big-screen version the TV show's cracked sense of humor made it through the transition intact which is sure to make die-hard fans breathe a collective sigh of relief. That said those who aren't in the die-hard camp will enjoy the film too even if they don't get all of the in-jokes. Dinello wisely allows Sedaris--buck teeth bling and all--to stay in the spotlight as much as possible so as long as you find Jerri funny rather than repulsive there's plenty to chuckle at. Strangers with Candy isn't a fancy movie or from the looks of it an expensive one but it's got a skewed sensibility that sets it apart from the crowd. Just like Jerri.

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