Candy is Dandy

Washington City Paper | July 7, 2006
Jerri Blank, the main character of Strangers With Candy, is a hideous-looking 47-year-old “boozer, user, and loser” with an overbite, bisexual nymphomania, and a big, fat, ’80s-clothed ass. This prequel to the divisive Comedy Central series of the same title—canceled after three seasons—promises nothing more than more Jerri. Conceived as an anti–After School Special series by co-writers/stars Stephen Colbert and director Paul Dinello, the show was gross. And bizarre. And offensive to pretty much everyone except straight white males.

The 85-minute, months-shelved movie is no different. Jerri, who ran away in high school to a life that alternated between prison and the gutter, returns home to find out that her mother’s dead and her father (Dan Hedaya, replacing the series’ Roberto Gari) is in a coma. She also discovers that she has a stepbrother, Derrick (Joseph Cross), and a stepmother, Sara (Deborah Rush), who instantly finds the prodigal daughter repulsive. Jerri’s dad, however, has a slight reaction when she comes to his bedside, leading his doctor (Ian Holm) to suggest that there might be hope for him yet if she tries to make up for the hurt she caused her parents.

Logically, Jerri goes back to high school with the intention of becoming a model student. No one seems to notice that the new girl looks like the hooker/addict version of an uncool mom, and she quickly falls in with the outcasts, Tammi (Maria Thayer) and Megawatti (Carlo Alban), an Indonesian the writers named after his country’s former president. The latter is a replacement for Jerri’s best friend on the show, a Filipino played by Orlando Pabotoy. The not-too-subtle idea is that otherness is funny—though Strangers With Candy, like Napoleon Dynamite, asks us to love its misfits even as we mock them. Other characters include Onyx Blackman (Greg Hollimon), the school’s ultrastern African-American principal; Chuck Noblet (Colbert), a married science (switched from history) teacher; and Geoffrey Jellineck (Dinello), a dopey, femmy art instructor. Noblet—at one point mistakenly remembered as “Crotch Niblet” by a former student—is, naturally, having a secret affair with Geoffrey.

If you haven’t yet figured it out, pretty much the whole point of Strangers With Candy is to fling as many un-PC punch lines as possible. With Colbert, Dinello, and Sedaris being their typically hilarious selves, the movie does this quite well, so enjoying it is really a question of tolerance. Those who give up when, for example, Noblet insists a science-fair team be made up of “Koreans and Jews” to ensure a win will miss out on some more sophisticated effrontery later—say, Jerri’s response to a question about whether she’s thinking about signing up for the fair: “No, I was thinking about pussy. Science fairs are for queers.”

Cameos by Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Allison Janney, and Philip Seymour Hoffman class up the film a bit, as if that mattered. Hoffman in particular seems to be having a blast, playing a school-board member jealous of his lover’s past. Even if you get your panties in a knot over jokes about “Alexander Graham Wang,” you’ve gotta laugh when the Oscar winner hisses, “You whore!”

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