Sunday, July 23, 2006

strangers with candy

virago and i were both fans of the show strangers with candy, so yesterday we headed up to the landmark theatre (for the second saturday in a row) to see the strangers with candy movie.

if you're familiar with the show, you have a pretty good idea what to expect, but if not: amy sedaris plays jerri blank, a 50-year-old ex-prostitute and drug addict who gets out of prison and decides to pick her life up where she left off by going back to high school. most of the show's original cast returns—except for some of the kids, who now look too old for their parts and have been recast—notably including stephen colbert, who now has his own hit show called the colbert report. the movie also adds a number of celebs in smaller roles, including matthew broderick as a rival science teacher and philip seymour hoffman as a member of the school board.

strangers with candy is a parody of after-school specials. the writers—sedaris, colbert, and paul dinello, who plays art teacher geoffrey jellineck—intensely studied the after-school genre in order to skillfully turn it on its ear. all the major characters, save some of the kids, are shallow, paranoid, and selfish almost to the point of solipsism. they're not just bad role models; they're bad human beings. molehills are magnified to mountainous importance, and everything is an excuse for massive amounts of angst.

but enough with that. you want the answers to two questions:
  1. is the movie good?
  2. how does it compare to the tv show?

first off, the movie is lots of fun. our 2:45 matinee show was fairly empty, but i still heard lots of laughter from the dozen or so people in attendance. there are some great scenes, and i'm still chuckling over a couple of them. fans of the show know what to expect, for the most part they'll get it, and they'll walk away satisfied.

that said, strangers with candy the film is not as good as the best episodes of strangers with candy the tv show. the format, which works so wonderfully as a 30-minute show, suffers a bit from being stretched out to 90 minutes. the new characters help somewhat, and all do a good job in their roles, but it's not quite enough to fill up that extra time. i'm not sure what could have been done to solve this problem, either: the format doesn't lend itself to complicated plot twists or the usual gimmicks that are used when tv comedies are adapted for the big screen. (come to think of it, i can't come up with many tv comedies that successfully made such a jump, except for a couple SNL movies like wayne's world and animated features like south park: bigger, longer, uncut or family guy presents stewie griffin: the untold story. the transition from tv comedy to comedy film is difficult, and strangers with candy manages better than most.

you might think that, because this is an R-rated movie rather than a show on broadcast cable (which was probably rated TV-14), the writers might ratchet up the filth level. but that didn't really happen; aside from one or two scenes, there isn't much here that they couldn't have gotten away with on comedy central. i didn't hear one f-bomb in the whole movie, and there is one scene where they might have said "shit" but i don't remember whether they did or not. of course, jerri is a perv and says all sorts of pervy things, but she sticks to silly euphemisms.

the movie's been out in new york for nearly a month, and started turning up in other markets on july 7. if you're a fan of the show, you've probably already decided to see the film (or have already seen it), and i won't discourage you. if you've never seen the show but you're a fan of dark satire (or of stephen colbert), you'll like the film, too, but should definitely check out the strangers with candy tv series. for some inexplicable reason, comedy central doesn't seem to be showing the reruns right now, but the whole series is on dvd.

if i had to give out letter grades, i'd give the movie a B, but i'd give the tv series an A.

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