Here, eat this 

With a little trust, Strangers with Candy delivers — sans poison or razorblades

If, as events periodically suggest, “going ugly” (Cameron Diaz, Being John Malkovich; Charlize Theron, Monster; Nicole Kidman, The Hours), “going junkie” (Jennifer Connelly in Requiem for a Dream; Jennifer Jason Leigh in pretty much anything) or “going hooker” (Jodie Foster, Taxi Driver; Theron, Monster; Leigh, see “going junkie”) top the list of surest-fire methods by which a Hollywood actress may snag some “serious artist” street cred and/or pick up the occasional Oscar nom, then Amy Sedaris, by all rights, ought currently to be hard at work, readying an appropriately tearful and effusive “I’m-so-nervous/I’m-forgetting-so-many-people” speech for next February.

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Amy Sedaris does her best jelly-bean-up-the-nose face — and holds it for about an hour and a half.

All right, so it’s monumentally unlikely that Sedaris’s clownish turn in the recently released Strangers with Candy (as ex-convict/addict/ strumpet-turned-40-plus-year-old-high-school-student Jerri Blank) — or any other aspect of the film, for that matter — will ever garner anything in the way of award-season recognition (save, perhaps, for a “Rockingest Lesbian Come-On” gilded-popcorn statuette, courtesy of MTV). But that doesn’t mean Strangers isn’t largely entertaining.

Billed as a prequel to the short-lived Comedy Central program of the same name, the picture was written by longtime pals and Second-City alumni Sedaris (David’s kid sister, by the way), Stephen Colbert (of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report), and Paul Dinello. The trio created and starred in the series, as well. Strangers the feature film opens with Jerri’s release from prison, where she has spent the better part of 32 years. Arriving home, she finds that (1) her mother has died, (2) said mother has been supplanted by an icy stepmother (Deborah Rush, reprising her series role) and wannabe-jock stepbrother (Joseph Cross), both of whom instantly, and consistently thereafter, dislike Jerri, (3) her father has lapsed into a grief-induced coma, and (4) said father’s place is now filled by the stepmother’s “Meatman” (sort of an innuendo-happy butcher), Stew (David Pasquesi). Understandably distressed, Jerri determines to do whatever necessary to wake her father.

Enter Ian Holm’s Dr. Putney, who tells Jerri that she must accomplish something “special” in order to help her dad. Which instruction Jerri somehow interprets as a sign to re-enroll in high school and ultimately find a way to make her father proud. Here, of course, is where the story — and the comic bits — begin in earnest, mostly via a parade of eccentrics, cameos, and faces old and new.

As Jerri, Sedaris’s most impressive feat is her most obvious one: The 45-year-old actress, who looks like a pretty, kind-countenanced cross between Emily Watson and Tracey Ullman (all three rather resemble one another, actually), manages to wrench her face and body into something vaguely resembling a heroin-addled, distraught, slutty chipmunk. If you can stand this thoroughly cartoonish, potentially grating characterization, you and Strangers’ll get along just fine. If you can’t, as my fiancée could not, you won’t fare well.

Sedaris gets top billing, but Colbert, as an emotionally unstable, recently born-again science teacher who’s clandestinely banging the school’s (male) art teacher (Dinello), is the best reason to watch. He explodes in (gleeful) fits of rage and despair, wears unfiltered contempt for his students on his sleeve, teaches from “Galileo’s Letters to the Corinthians,” and just generally has a whale of it, as do we by extension. Other spots of note include Allison Janney and Philip Seymour Hoffman (both sublime in their own rights) as school-board representatives/lovers, Sarah Jessica Parker as a disaffected guidance counselor, name of Callas (get it?), Matthew Broderick’s pompous science-fair guru, Justin Theroux as a borderline-psychotic drivers-ed instructor, and Dan Hedaya — who’s even cool unconscious — as Jerri’s comatose dad. (Also, Sedaris kicks the crap out of Mystic River’s Tom Guiry, née The Sandlot’s Scotty Smalls.)

Strangers with Candy, to be sure, brings the silly, but it also tries to bring the offensive. Think somewhere in the Anchorman and Wet Hot American Summer vicinity, and you’ll know if you’ll warm to it — assuming you can weather tweaky, violent, bitchy, racist, amorous, vulnerable Jerri.


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