Ian Schuelke, writer/actor/filmmaker and self-proclaimed “entertainment mogul,” tells you about his terrible 32nd birthday gathering to go see Strangers With Candy.
There’s a peculiar change in behavior for most people as they get older. Your mid-thirties come on, and one day it’s a little harder to get out of bed in the morning. A month later you can’t drink more than one cocktail without a nasty hangover that night. Hydration is no longer something you think about on occasion, because you’re finally realizing why your skin is so dry all the time and why you get headaches when you drink nothing but Coca-Cola all day.
You have to pee a lot more.
When I was much younger I assumed that all this terrible stuff just happened one day. “Oh! I’m old now. Everything is shitty. Guess I should die.” Unfortunately, death is a long, slow process that starts (if you’re lucky) somewhere in your 20s and continues until, well, you get it. With this knowledge comes the sudden, painful realization that you only have so much time left. At first it’s just anecdotal, but after a few wasted nights grabbing drinks with people you don’t even like, or staying until the end of that friend’s set even though their music sucks, you start to get more frugal with how you spend it. For instance, you’d easily walk out of a cinematic Cheeto fart like Strangers With Candy.
Two things clouded my judgment when I saw this film on July 11th, 2006. The first was youth, and the assumption that I would have plenty of time left to become a renowned vocalist/comedian/actor/writer/cobbler. Yeah. Woops!
The other, was that July 11th, 2006 was my 32nd birthday, and I was alone in a mostly empty theater. And it was kind of my own fault.
At the time I was terrible at reaching out to friends, so I didn’t send out the invite to 20 people until the 7th, just a few days before:
“Next Tuesday (July 11) is my birthday, and I was thinking about going to see a movie. Either Strangers With Candy (7:30 @ The Varsity) or A Scanner Darkly (7:00 @ The Egyptian). I wanna get a count of who can come, and what movie you wanna see. Majority wins. Any takers?”
I got six responses. Four “no’s.” Understandably, seeing as how I gave them four days notice. Two said “yes” to Strangers. I told them I’d meet them there.
Cut to July 11th, where I spent an excruciating 85 minutes alone in a dark theater on my birthday. Watching a steaming turd.
After the showing I ran in to one of my friends. He came in late and didn’t want to search for me. When I told him he was the only one who showed up, he exclaimed “OH THAT’S TERRIBLE! I’M SO SORRY! IF I’D KNOWN I WOULD HAVE LOOKED FOR YOU!” This succeeded in making me feel worse, so I made a quick excuse to leave and went home to wallow in self-pity.
I didn’t laugh much during the film. Looking back I assumed I didn’t laugh much because I was sad.
I have come to learn that is decidedly not the case.
Strangers With Candy is a film based on the cult Comedy Central series centering on Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), a 50-year-old self-described “Boozer, user, and loser.” It’s set up as a prequel, with Jerri coming home from prison to a dead mom, a comatose dad, and a wicked stepmother and brother. For some reason they decided to make the premise more contrived than necessary. In the series, Jerri just wanted to pick up where she left off, as a high school student. In the film, Jerri’s presence briefly rouses her father, and the family doctor decides that having Jerri home—and behaving like the teenager she was when she ran away—will save her father.
The original series was a parody of the 30-minute after-school specials of the ’70s and ’80s. 22 minutes was the perfect length to keep it fresh and funny. Stretch it out to 85 minutes and you start to have serious problems.
BOY, DO THEY STRETCH.
I’ve never seen so many lingering shots. How long do we have to watch Jerri in the bathroom mirror? There is a bit near the beginning of the movie that falls so flat I’m amazed it wasn’t excised by producers: Jerri, eager to start her first day in school, lays on the horn of her stepmother’s car. She wants everything to be just like it was when she was a kid, so mom has to drive her to school. After far too much time arguing with her about it, wicked stepmother gets in the car, throws it in gear, and drives across the street. The joke is that the school is literally 50 feet away. It’s not very funny on its best day. But then it gets dragged out for padding.
And the jokes. What little there is. Most of Jerri’s jokes are calling someone ‘faggot’ or disparaging minorities, which can be funny if done correctly. It doesn’t work much here though. At best the humor feels antiquated.
There’s a subplot regarding a science fair and Principal Blackman facing prison for misappropriating funds unless his school team can win it. Yeah, it makes no sense, and it’s mostly irrelevant. A lot of this movie is. I was doing some web searches to find out more about the production (like HOW DID THIS GET MADE), and Amy Sedaris openly said they never planned to do a film. She was working on a book with co-stars and co-writers Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello, and they just kept coming up with funny things for Jerri to say. In the end, they should have come up with about 40 more minutes, or just done a one-off special.
Ten years on I’m a very different person (thanks therapy!). These days I plan well ahead, I reach out to my friends with ample notice, and I have Rotten Tomatoes so I can avoid bad movies. I just wish I had vetoed my friends and chosen A Scanner Darkly. I still would have been alone, but at least I would have been entertained.