Strangers with Candy

(USA 2006)

“Hello, I’m Jerri Blank and — and I’m an alcoholic. I’m also addicted to amphetamines as well as main line narcotics. Some people say I have a sex addiction, but I think all those years of prostitution was just a means to feed my ravenous hunger for heroin. It’s kinda like the chicken or the nugget. The point is, I’m addicted to gambling. Thank you. Oh, and my daddy’s in a coma.”

“Way to go, faglick.”

“I’m thinkin’ about pussy. The science fair’s for queers.”

“I want your spermies!”

“Why doesn’t anybody like me?”

— Jerri Blank


“Everybody! Eyes to the back of the room!”

— Chuck Noblet

Those offended by juvenile potty humor and crass jokes in very poor taste — as many no doubt are offended — well, they best steer clear of Strangers with Candy, a sort of prequel to Amy Sedaris’s twisted cable TV series about depraved boozer, user, and loser Jerri Blank (Sedaris).

Those who dig this shit — like me — well, they’ll love this tawdry little farce.

As in the series, 47 year old former alcoholic, junkie, dealer, petty thief, bisexual hooker Jerri is released from prison after 32 years. She returns home to find her mother in an urn, her father (Dan Hedaya) in a coma, and her new family — “mommie” Sara (Deborah Rush) and 17 year old half-brother Derrick (Joseph Cross) — in complete shock, awe, and horror at the sight of her. They want her out.

When Jerri’s presence induces a physical reaction from her father, his doctor (Ian Holm) posits that she could be key in pulling him out of his coma by taking him back to the days before she left. The good doctor suggests that she move in and do something to make him proud.

Jerri decides to pick up where she left off: she goes back to Flatpoint High, where the faces may have changed but the hassles are just the same, and enrolls. She’s getting the diploma she never earned.

A science fair is the perfect opportunity to make her daddy proud — if only she can muster the wherewithal to participate. New BFFs outcasts Tamela (Maria Thayer) and Megawatti (Carlo Alban) are trying to keep her focused but Jerri’s more concerned with bagging class hottie and star squat thruster Brason (Chris Pratt). So much is riding on winning, not just for her father and her teammates but also shamed “science” teacher Chuck Noblet (Stephen Colbert). Can Jerri rise to the occasion?

Directed by Paul Dinello, who does double duty as art teacher Geoffrey Jellineck, and written by Dinello, Colbert, Sedaris, and Mitch Rouse, Strangers with Candy is true to its roots. Loaded with silly lines and a surprising number of celebrity cameos, it doesn’t expand on the series; in fact, it plays out like a binge watch of a season. Still, it’s a damn good time — and healthier than crack or unprotected sex. Maybe.

Oh yeah: I dare you not to let “She’s a Fig Neutron” by Gordon Grody and D-Fonz get stuck in your head. Go ‘head. No? Well, then I guess we’ll never know.

With Stephen Colbert, Gregory Hollimon, Allison Janney, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Justin Theroux, Delores Duffy, Kristen Johnston, David Pasquesi, David Rakoff, Elisabeth Harnois, Alexis Dziena, Thomas Guiry

Production: Comedy Central Films, Worldwide Pants, Roberts/David Films

Distribution: THINKFilm, Front Row Filmed Entertainment (United Arab Emirates)

97 minutes
Rated R

(DVD purchase) B-

Manchester by the Sea

(USA 2016)

Home is where the heart is, but for Boston area janitor Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) it’s where the heartbreak is. Withdrawn into a dreary and meager existence, he spends his days repairing tubs and toilets, listening to tenants bitch (and in one case talk on the phone about doing him), and shoveling snow at the apartment building where he lives in a dark basement with hardly any furniture and apparently one window. He spends his nights drinking himself stupid—so stupid he gets into the occasional brawl. He gets some positive attention here and there but never responds or engages. He’s dead inside for reasons that aren’t immediately clear.

Flashbacks show that Lee wasn’t always broken. He was married with three children. He had a home. He had friends and a social life. He spent a lot of time with his only sibling, older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), and his nephew, Joe’s only kid Patrick (Ben O’Brien), on Joe’s boat. Joe’s wife, Elise (Gretchen Mol) is no longer in the picture. Neither is Lee’s, Randi (Michelle Williams).

One cold morning, a friend (C.J. Wilson) calls Lee to inform him that Joe had another heart attack. Joe dies before Lee gets to the hospital in his hometown, Manchester-by-the-Sea, about an hour up the coast from him. He has to tell Patrick (Lucas Hedges), who’s now in high school. Lee sticks around to help put together the funeral and look after his nephew. He gets pulled into a parental role, carting Patrick to hockey events and band —a rock band, not high school marching band—practice, and counseling him on matters of dating and sex. Both are surprised when Joe’s lawyer (Josh Hamilton) reveals his will: he made provisions for Lee to serve as Patrick’s guardian. Too bad Joe never said anything to Lee.

Manchester by the Sea has some truly depressing scenes. The backstory of what brought Lee to his current state is horrible—it’s no wonder he doesn’t want to be anyone’s guardian. One excruciating exchange between Randi and Lee turned on the waterworks—mine (and it takes some doing to get me to cry). Director and writer Kenneth Lonergan is focused on loss, forgiveness, and the complicated nature of taking care of one’s own in tough times. Jody Lee Lipes’s cinematography nicely translates that focus, giving the film its dreary, colorless look.

All that said, Manchester by the Sea really isn’t a depressing movie. Much of the dialogue between Lee and Patrick is amusing: snarky and smartass, they often end up arguing. They’re all macho but obviously have a bond they don’t ever bring up; instead, it shows subtly when they talk about Joe or the boat. Lonergan has a wonderfully dry sense of humor that makes this one more than melodrama. The frozen ground is too hard to dig, so Joe has to stay in a freezer until spring. Patrick tries hard to get into a bandmate’s (Anna Baryshnikov) pants, while her mother (Heather Burns) develops a thing for Lee. Patrick gets in touch with his mother, who to his disdain has become a born again Christian. Plus, her fiancé is played by Matthew Broderick. Nice touch!

Manchester by the Sea has a similar vibe as, say, a Smiths song. I like that. The rather abrupt ending doesn’t resolve much, which is something I’ve heard a few people complain about. It didn’t bother me.

137 minutes
Rated R

(Landmark Century) B+

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

(USA 1986)

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

—Ferris Bueller

I caught a 30th anniversary screening of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—what a treat to see it on the big screen again! The first time I saw this was with my mother and grandmother on a school night during its original run—that says a lot about its appeal. I had no idea that John Hughes wrote the screenplay in less than a week, or that it was his “love letter to Chicago” however readily apparent that is now, or that it was one of the top ten grossing films of 1986 ( I do know that it’s one of his best films, and in my opinion his last truly great one.

Where to begin? Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is damn near perfect. An exquisite balance of Weird Science fluff and The Breakfast Club heaviness, it’s a fun escape fantasy anyone can relate to—calling in sick and hitting the city—that isn’t mindless. This film is hilarious, poignant in places, subversive, and in many ways so over the top, but it doesn’t insult your intelligence. The story’s holy trinity—mischievous Ferris (Matthew Broderick), quick-witted Sloane (Mia Sara), and high-strung jittery Cameron (Alan Ruck)—are spot on realistic. They’re downright cool—I’d hang out with them. Indeed, Ferris is enviable—admit it, you wanted to be him. I know I did.

The film is an interminable string of iconic scenes and lines: Ferris’s opening monologue, Ben Stein taking roll call (“Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?”), school secretary Grace (Edie McClurg) explaining to principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) that Ferris “is a righteous dude,” Cameron’s prank call to Rooney (“Pardon my French, but you’re an asshole”), the Ferrari, the Art Institute, “Twist and Shout,” the restaurant (“The Sausage King of Chicago?”), Wrigley Field, the singing telegram, “Save Ferris,” hateful Jeanie Bueller (Jennifer Grey), Rooney’s bus ride home, and being sent home at the end of the credits. Interspersed is weighty stuff like Ferris’s realization that he and Sloane probably won’t be together after high school ends and Cameron’s meltdown—none of it out of place or trite in the context of the film. I can watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off over and over, and never get tired of it because it’s multilayered and always brings a smile to my face.

As for Hughes’s love letter to Chicago, I must say that living here, it’s strangely satisfying to walk down the street on any given day and encounter a setting—a corner, a street, a building—that I recognize from an iconic movie that to this day I love. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking it up.

In 2014, the United States Library of Congress deemed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (

103 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Brew & View at The Vic) A