After forming a “think tank” that consists mostly of Koreans and Jews, Chuck Noblet (Stephen Colbert) declares that he wants to bring “pop” to the science fair competition that pits his group against a cheerleader-and-jock faction patrolled by visiting science fair ace Roger Beekman (Matthew Broderick). It’s this “pop” element that’s missing from the Strangers with Candy movie, which shows considerable wear after being dumped by Warner Independent Pictures and picked up by THINKFilm earlier this year. The film ran 97 minutes at Sundance; now it clocks in at 87 and the excessive cuts show around many scenes, suggesting limbs hacked off at their joints.
The film’s headiest visual gag is located in a scene in which an arrow with the words “feed baby” at the end points at Colbert’s head, which strategically covers the area of a chalkboard where a drawing of a woman’s breast has been erased. There’s a more intricate, even-flowing, “interactive” Strangers with Candy movie lying on a cutting room floor somewhere, loaded with references that likely caused the suits at WIP to dream of legalese sheep, but who gives a shit when the end result is this funny? In one scene, Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris) asks Tammi Littlenut (Maria Thayer) if “the curtains match the drapes.” Similarly, the film’s crude construction befits Jerri’s busted face.
Much of the film’s fine details have been lifted almost verbatim from the original Comedy Central show, but Colbert, Sedaris, and director Paul Dinello make repetition seem sublime, expanding the jokes by turning them against their audience. Take another great scene, in which Jerry is seen brainstorming for the science fair but is distracted by a television program in which a monkey (the most-referenced animal in the Strangers with Candy kingdom) hits another monkey on the head with a violin. Sound familiar? She laughs, we laugh—at which point fans of the show will feel a little déjà vu before subsequently pondering, “Who’s the monkey here?”
The film is cinematic enough—the opening scene, in which Jerry is distracted by slow-mo recollections of past indiscretions, is a riot, literally and figuratively—but quickly settles into a hit-or-miss funk. As Guy Blank, Dan Hedaya doesn’t get to recreate one of the show’s greatest running gags (Roberto Gari’s frozen comatose poses), and Sarah Jessica Parker, as guidance counselor Peggy Callas, is the only superstar cameo that seems to fit effortlessly into the twisted ethos of the show’s universe. But the Colbert-Dinello-Sedaris team, again, do wonders with repetition: The Afterschool Special critique of the show isn’t enriched but there’s depth to Sara Blank (Deborah Rush) constantly telling people not to walk on her carpet runners (a symbol for her frustrated middle-class position) and Jerri trying to secure pity, over and over again, by saying, “My daddy’s in a coma.”
Sedaris is the project’s greatest visual effect: a racist, illiterate, fortysomething nutjob with bad teeth and mom-pants physique, whose grotesque, insatiable sexual appetite, honed in prison where she served time for a laundry list of crimes, is bluntly directed at anyone around her, namely redheaded Tammi and jock star Brason (Chris Pratt). In this, easily the most quotable movie of the year, Brason recognizes that Jerri is a clusterfuck and asks her out on a date so he can secure her team’s science fair idea. Jerri, anxious to work the guy’s crank ever since she saw him walking into the school’s cafeteria, responds, “I want your spermees.” Oh, Jerri.