Some quick reflections on the Strangers with Candy movie
The television series Strangers with Candy was one of the tightest, most cohesive comedies to come along in the last several years. Its subtle mix of vicious satire, peripheral sight gags, and jokes that sometimes hung in the air for a moment before your brain was able to catch up to them was suited perfectly to the half hour format. In addition, the main cast (Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello, and Craig Hollimon) are all great comedic actors who played together like veteran jazz musicians, each adding his or her own unique personality to the whole. But can something that worked so well on television make the transition to the big screen and still be just as good? The answer is yes, sort of.
Strangers with Candy the movie serves as a prequel to the television series which ran on Comedy Central in the late 90s. Fans of the series know the story: Jerri Blank ran away from home thirty-two years ago to delve into prostitution and copious amounts of drugs. After being released from a stint in prison, she decides to return home to start her life over again as a 46 year old high school freshman. In the movie, Jerri returns to find her father (this time played by Dan Hedaya rather than Roberto Gari*) is in a stress-induced comma caused by the sudden disappearance of his beloved daughter all those years ago. The doctor tells Jerri that if she were able to do something truly amazing, say, win the school science fair, it might help her father to wake up.
I was a huge fan of the television series, taping every episode when it was on the air and snatching up the DVDs and coveting them as if I was Gollum with the Ring when they came out. Fans like myself will notice that a lot of jokes from the series have been slightly modified and reused in this film, which is really more of an observation than a critique, as they still work just fine within the framework of this movie. What doesn't work quite as well, however, are the more subtle moments that fit more snuggly on the small screen but don't quite translate to the movie screen. While I'm glad this movie got made and I was able to visit the students and faculty of Flatpoint High once again, I still have to admit that this film wasn't really all that necessary. It's essentially what could have been an episode of the original series blown up to movie size, but like an image printed on an over-inflated balloon, it becomes easier to notice the minor imperfections.
Nevertheless, fans of the series should go out and see it, if they haven't already. And those who haven't seen the television series but went to the movie to see what all the fuss is about should know that it is by no means a definitive facsimile of the television series. I suspect that Strangers with Candy the movie will have a better life on DVD. Strangers as a movie is great, but as I said before, it's always been much better suited to a smaller venue.
*the character of Derrick Blank is also played by a different actor, and the character of Orlando has been completely recast as an Indonesian student named Megawatti.