Just Like Starting Over

Strangers with Candy

Amy Sedaris, Deborah Rush, and Greg Hollimon star in a film written by Stephen Colbert, Sedaris, Paul Dinello, and Mitch Rouse, and directed by Dinello.

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

Turning clichés on their ear and fourth-wall tactics make for the generally delicious modus operandi of Strangers with Candy, a proud, satirically salty variation on the high school comedy genre which brings to the big screen a series first explored on the small screen several years ago. The result is a film full of politically incorrect gags that amuse even when not inducing out-and-out laughs. It’s a fine product by alumni of that American comedian factory, Chicago’s Second City, including Amy Sedaris (sister of David) as the protagonist and Stephen Colbert as co-writer and actor, from just before he became a hugely public pundit/sensation.

Sedaris plays Jerri Blank, your basic junkie prostitute, a buck-toothed, wannabe rehabilitated bad girl who decides to go back to high school. Never mind that she’s decades older and infinitely more streetwise than her classmates. After getting out of prison, she finds her father in a coma and is determined to shock him into wellness by doing well at school, specifically at a science fair project. She doesn’t exactly get along with her stepfamily, especially her stepbrother, who dares to reach across her at the dinner table. She spouts, “You cross my chow zone again and you’re going to end up with a bloody stump.” We gotta love her.

Once in the clutches of the high school comedy genre, the contextual fun begins. It’s a perennial genre in need of goosing, and this film joins a small list of films that successfully skewer the form. Jerri is torn between the affections of her own circle of friends, who are “less popular and attractive” than the cool kids with drifting moral compasses. Bit parts are handled with glee by notable actors, including Philip Seymour Hoffman and Matthew Broderick.

One of the most laugh-out-loud funny bits in this tasty black-ish comedy comes literally at the tail end. As the end credits roll, with silhouetted dancers to one side, we hear an old-school soul song replete with call-and-response backup singers: “… you know she is a boozer (because she’s out on floors), yes, she is a loser (never scores), she’s known to be a user (junkie whore), she is sexy (sex-y-y-y) … when watching people dancing (yes?), it’s hard to watch the credits (let ’em roll).” There, in a nutty nutshell, is the synopsis of the film, plus an insight into its comic vocabulary, tucked into a late-breaking sound gag moment.

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