AMC Loews 34th St. Theater
312 W. 34th St.
Organizers of the 18th Annual NewFest, New York’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Film Festival, are launching this year with the New York premiere of Paul Dinello’s “Strangers with Candy.” The film takes us back to the beginning of the saga of Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), the 47-year-old “boozer, user, and loser” who becomes a teenage runaway, gets arrested for prostitution and theft, and lands in jail.
The film opens with a prison shower scene, where a soaped-up Blank is hitting on fellow prisoners, and is continually beat down by a seriously butch dyke.
When she is finally released, she returns home to find her mother is dead, and she has a new mom—Deborah Rush, who played the stepmother in the Comedy Central series. Blank shoves her raccoon-tailed “muk-a-luk” into the door jamb and weasels her way back home to try and help her father, who lies in a vegetative, stress-induced coma.
Per the doctor’s suggestion, Jerri decides the best way to help her father lies in, “picking up my life where I left off and being the good girl I never wanted to be.” Thus Jerri returns to high school to suffer the injustices of youth, in the After School Special format of the original series.
Joseph Cross plays Jerri’s stepbrother Derrick, portrayed by Larc Spies in the series. Indonesian boy Megawatti Sacarnaputri (Carlo Alban) fills in for her best buddy, Orlando, who was Filipino in the show.
Maria Thayer reprises her role as Jerri’s sometimes love interest, Tammy Littlenut. In this prequel, Jerri meets her in the principal’s office, with the line, “What’s up red? Carpet match the drapes?”
When Blank returns to Flatpoint High—shot at a different location than the series—she finds Principal Onyx Blackman up to his old tricks—this time, forced to prove that his students are learning or lose funding. Allison Janney and Philip Seymour Hoffman play school board members in an inspired turn.
So, with the school board breathing down his neck, “like a drunken jock at a roofie party,” Blackman decides to prove Flatpoint’s might by winning the Science Fair—with Matthew Broderick as the razzle-dazzle ringer Roger Beekman.
Beekman is the old nemesis of science teacher Chuck Noblet (Stephen Colbert) who eschews evolution and uses The Bible as his text. His empty headed bravado is delightfully reprised, as is his secret gay love affair with art teacher, Geoffrey Jellineck (Paul Dinello). Unfortunately for Jellineck, at the beginning of the film, Noblet has decided to end their affair, saying, “I need more out of this relationship than I’m willing to put in.”
The tension escalates when Jellineck joins Beekman’s science crew, and Noblet is left to find his own team. When Megawatti sees Blank looking at the science fair sign-up sheet, he asks, “Jerri, are you thinking of signing up for the science fair?” to which she replies, “No, I’m thinking about pussy. Science fairs are for queers.”
Still, they team up with Littlenut as a third, and Jerri seems on the right path to impress her comatose father, until a hot jock from the varsity squat-thrust team steals their plans for a soup-can superconductor and passes it off as his own.
All seems lost until Jerri realizes who her true friends are, and comes up with a winning idea for a jailhouse battery that wins first prize, secures the school board funding, and ultimately, sets the gym on fire.
Those familiar with the show will appreciate that Jerri’s bisexual love of “the pole and the hole” are played up, with her hitting on both Tammy and Brason, the buff jock. Jerri drops an abundance of fag jokes against her stepbrother “Derlick” and closeted Noblet, but don’t feel like you need to report them to GLAAD—the entire movie is as self-mocking as can be.
Also returning to the team is David Pasquesi as Stew, the meat man, Delores Duffy as school secretary Iris Puffybush, and Sarah Thyre as Coach Wolf, the gym teacher. Kristin Johnson, as a wheelchair-bound victim of the running of the bulls, is there to help the coach release the bulls during girls’ gym class, and Sarah Jessica Parker plays a morose school grief counselor with a tip jar on her desk.
Some visual gags include Noblet’s classroom sign, “Jesus Satisfies,” the cheesecake shot of Sedaris posted inside her locker, and the comic messages on the school marquee, from “Science Fair—Prove Your Brain” to “Roger Beekman is a Fatty.” The top honor, however, goes to the scene in which Principal Blackman runs down the hall in a thong and flip-flops after being sprayed in the eyes with Eucalyptus oil in the teacher’s sauna.
The wealth of celebrity cameos is nice, and the long-awaited release of the movie is ultimately validated by its comic brilliance. Still, for those indoctrinated into the cult of “Strangers With Candy,” the question remains—is this fast-moving prequel enough to satisfy?