If you've never seen the cable series Strangers with Candy, then you have missed one of the most bizarre sitcoms of the past 10 years. An absurd take on the suburban-set high-school shows like My So-Called Life, Strangers with Candy followed the coming-of-age trials and tribulations of Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris). The thing to keep in mind is that Jerri, a 46-year-old ex-con who had returned to high school in an attempt to reclaim the youth she lost through years of incarceration, drugs and prostitution, was no ordinary freshman.
Six years after the cancellation of the short-lived series, Strangers with Candy returns as a feature film. It seems...well...strange that a show that only lasted 30 episodes—just a few more episodes than the average network show has in an entire season—would warrant the transition to film. But during its limited life span on Comedy Central, Strangers with Candy built legions of loyal fans who would tune in to see what trouble Jerri would get into next. (In one episode, she has a relationship with a 15-year-old who was quite possibly the baby she traded for a guitar years earlier.)
Strangers with Candy was the brainchild of Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello and Amy Sedaris, a self-described "clown who likes to put on her own show" who starred as Jerri. While working on the book Wigfield, Sedaris, Colbert and Dinello started coming up with jokes that Jerri would say. "Every time we would come up with something funny, we would just write it down and put it in a file," said Sedaris during a recent phone interview. "And then at the end of the book, we opened this file, and we had lots of stuff, and Paul Dinello thought it would be really funny to do a movie."
The big-screen version of Strangers with Candy is a sort of prequel to the TV series. After 32 wasted years, Jerri returns home to find her daddy (Dan Hedaya) in a coma. She knows that if she can just make up for all the mistakes of her past by becoming a model student, her father will be so proud he'll wake from his vegetative state. So, she returns to Flatpoint High, where she hopes to be accepted as just another student.
Fans will be happy to know that the same bizarre humor that fueled the series is in the movie. In fact, more than anything, the movie feels like an extended episode. If there is one disappointment, it's that Strangers with Candy doesn't get quite as raw as you might hope. The go-for-broke approach of the South Park movie is missing. But at the same time, true diehard fans should be happy the film takes care not to sanitize Jerri's world for a more mainstream crowd. This film was made primarily to entertain one key demographic—fans of the show.
"I like the audience for Strangers with Candy because they are misfits and outcasts, and there are never movies for misfits and outcasts," says Sedaris. "I like that we can entertain those people."
Opens Friday at Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave., 223-4515. 7 and 9 pm, Friday-Thursday, July 7-13 (except Tuesday, July 11: 5 and 9 pm). Additional shows 4:45 Friday; 12:45, 2:45 and 4:45 Saturday-Sunday; 10:45 pm Saturday.