Funny is funny
STRANGERS WITH CANDY (Paul Dinello, USA, 2006, 7)
In some ways STRANGERS WITH CANDY is criticism-proof. You either share Amy Sedaris and Steven Colbert’s demented sense of gonzo humor and anti-humor (the two co-wrote the script with director Paul Dinelo), or you don’t. As the grade suggests, I do, yet I can also recognize that the film would have been unbearable if I hadn’t. Based on a Comedy Central series of which I hadn’t previously seen more than clips, STRANGERS betrays its television origins. The color is a little heightened and the images a little forced and flattened, but other than that STRANGERS has completely undistinguished in the plastic or cinematic categories. Its plot (basically an “origins” episode of the series, which had a middle-aged woman just out of prison going back to high school to impress her comatose father) is too stupid even to feel offended when it’s ignored. It’s all … and I mean ALL … in the writing. Dinello is no Stanley Kubrick, or even an Ernst Lubitsch.
The small Sedaris deliberately uglies herself up as Jerri Blank, with buck teeth, eccentric hairdo, excessive lipstick, knuckle tattoos, a past-due fasion sense and a high-pitched adolescent voice. The effect is to produce someone so demented, without being threatening that she can basically do whatever she wants and we just chalk it up to her weirdness. Colbert plays a version of the kind of hyper-educated self-regarding smarm that he exudes on “The Colbert Report.” His character is a science teacher who seems like a Manhattanite’s idea of a red-state Xtian Fundie — the periodic table is in the shape of a cross, the crucifix has the atom sign over Our Lord’s head where INRI is usually inscribed, he reads from Galileo’s First Letter to the Corinthians and other deadpan details that are consistently ignored once delivered, as though this were normal.
Very often in this film, the funny moments are funny because they are not funny. (And if that sentence makes any sense to you, STRANGERS is right up your alley; if not, stay the eff away). For example, the “love interest” is from Indonesia. He’s introduced with the exchange “what’s your name” … “Megawati Sukarnoputri” … “oh, are you?” … “no, it’s a very common name.” That joke doesn’t mean anything if you didn’t recognize the name (and the funniest part is that the Indonesian president is a woman; this character a man). And there are a brace of putdowns of Indonesians throughout. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ll hazard a guess that there have never been any Indonesian jokes in Anglo-American humor. The necessary stereotypes just don’t exist to us (insert famous Monty Python sketch “Prejudice” about inventing a slur for the miserable fat Belgian bastards). And that’s why it’s funny to hear all these putdowns and have Sedaris lovingly reassure “Megatwati” that she’s “just having some cruel fun at your expense.”
The humor is basically curdled irony — a mixture of cruelty, Pythonesque non sequiturs, crudeness, smarmy elusiveness and smart-aleck allusiveness. Have I mentioned that I share this movie’s sense of humor? I almost think all I have to do is give a sample of the lines I found funniest — “Just be yourself. Then if things don’t work out, we know where the problem is”; the smarmy and corrupt African-American male principal is named “Blackman” (and don’t think those two syllables aren’t well separated when spoken); “Why does anybody like me … They don’t know you well enough yet”; and my favorite line is “of course I know what a rusty trombone is. I used to be a stewardess.” I can’t defend or describe STRANGERS on any other terms. If all or most of that is funny to you, you’ll have a ball.
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