Back in the ‘90s, when I first started watching Kids in the Hall reruns on Comedy Central, the channel’s Penn Jillette-voiced bumpers advertised it as “The Canadian Saturday Night Live.” The reasoning behind this marketing angle was understandable—roughly 75% of Comedy Central’s programming during that period consisted of Dana Carvey-era SNL reruns—but it only takes a cursory viewing of either to show that the analogy never really held water. Where SNL is broad, topical, and familiar, the Kids were dark, weird, and hermetic. Even at their last-half-hour loopiest, the SNL team would never come up with something as weird as “Lopez,” let alone “Love and Sausages.” In truth, SCTV was Canada’s SNL; Kids in the Hall was its Monty Python.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Brain Candy, the Kids’ first and (so far) only foray into feature film. The late ‘90s and early 2000s marked the peak of SNL’s cinematic ambitions, cranking out film after film based on half-remembered recurring characters. While some of these were surprisingly decent (such as Al Franken’s little-seen, oddly affecting Stuart Saves His Family), most tended toward the wearying quality of It’s Pat and A Night at the Roxbury. The Kids in the Hall, meanwhile, despite having no shortage of characters of characters to throw into the spotlight (such as Scott Thompson’s flamboyant raconteur Buddy Cole, or Mark McKinney’s weirdly single-minded Head Crusher), opted for a stranger route: a jet-black original satire on the pharmaceutical industry and the 90s’ trend toward instant gratification. There are no catch phrases, and the film’s most memorable character—Bruce McCulloch’s “Cancer Boy”—was never going to wind up on a T-shirt. Needless to say, audiences didn’t quite know what to make of it, but it managed to live on in video rental Valhalla.
Brain Candy is a very ‘90s movie; if the heavy nods toward Prozac and grunge didn’t tip you off, check out the soundtrack, which is basically a Matador Records sampler peppered with sound bites from the film. Yet, despite its period trappings, Brain Candy feels infinitely fresher than its Stateside counterparts, less reliant as it is on a fleeting cultural quasi-zeitgeist. If there is a central joke to Brain Candy, it’s summed up by the folk song related by McKinney’s surly Estonian cabbie: “Life is short, life is shit, and soon it will be over.” Catchphrases come and catchphrases go, but that sentiment will forever be relatably funny.
Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy
dir. Kelly Makin
For screening information, click here