July 13, 2006

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Strangers with Candy (PG-13)
Amy Sedaris brings her junkie-prostitute-felon high school drop-back-in Jerri Blank to the big screen in Strangers with Candy, the movie version of the 1999-2000 Comedy Central series.

The movie backtracks to give us the story of Jerri’s (Amy Sedaris) homecoming. After getting out of prison, she returns to her childhood home to find that her mother is dead, her father (Dan Hedaya) is in a coma and her stepmother (Deborah Rush) is running the household. Jerri ignores her stepmother’s serious disapproval of Jerri’s return and moves back in to her old room, vowing to take up her teenage life again in order to help bring her family together. Her family now also includes a teenage stepbrother Derrick (Joseph Cross), one of the popular kids at the local Flatpoint High School.

And oh, how Jerri longs to be popular. Behind her prison-mentality reaction to just about every situation, Jerri desperately wants to be “in” and, like every good Afterschool Special heroine, she faces every 1970s-teen moral crosswords that ever plagued some future TV star. Drugs, racism, issues of loyalty and betrayal — Jerri faces all of these things and inevitably makes the very worst choices with a fabulous lack of grace.

Of course, plenty of grown-ups are participating in the bad-decision-making skills club. Science teacher Chuck Noblet (Stephen Colbert) ends his relationship with dumber-than-papier-mache art teacher Geoffrey Jellineck (Paul Dinello), only to pine for him. Principal Blackman (Greg Holliman) can no longer hide the flagrant misappropriation of funds at his failing school from school board investigators (Allison Janney and Philip Seymour Hoffman in strange but entertaining bit parts). So, to prove his school’s academic rigor, he decides a team from Flatpoint must enter and win a regional science fair. To ensure this pointless victory, he brings in a science fair ringer — Roger Beekman (Matthew Broderick), a man who is one part David Blaine, one part Jerry Bruckheimer and no parts scientist.

Strangers with Candy has its moments and not all of them are centered on Amy Sedaris’ excellently flawed character. Sarah Jessica Parker is surprisingly good in a cameo as a bitter grief counselor. Matthew Broderick is very good as the all-hat, no-cattle science fair celebrity Beekman. Colbert’s heartbroken Noblet is funny during even the hackyest moments. And, of course, Sedaris can’t help but make you laugh with her throwaway lines about Jerri’s prison life or Jerri’s wonderfully pathetic attempts to act normal.

But these moments never coalesce. Where the television show could use each episode to parody some horribly trite Afterschool Special message — most of them about being kind to people who are different, some Jerri remains blissfully incapable of — the movie just throws bits of parody together with chunks of small character studies, resulting in a sort of Strangers with Candy trail mix. Sadly, in this bowl, there are way too many sesame sticks of uneven skits and not enough cashews of sharp satire. The resulting snack is not nearly as satisfying as Sedaris fans know it could be. B-


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