This is a post that is part of the O Canada Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. I will have another contribution to it soon!
Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy
This is one of those films that I’ve written about some in the past but never dedicated and entire post to it. So here it comes, and I discuss the plot in some detail, and if that matters to you even in a comedy, consider this your spoiler alert.
This is a film that in the retroactive days was added to the BAM Awards roster of nominees in 1996 for Best Original Screenplay.
I discussed it when I decided to take a Cinematic Trip Around Canada on Canada Day:
“I have said previously how underrated and amazing I think The Kids in The Hall: Brain Candy is. While it too falls into the vague category and does make a lot of commentary apropos of ‘90s America, it’s still The Kids in the Hall, in my head (where it’s 72 degrees all the time) this movie is in Canada.”
And this is true, within the framework of the narrative the film never explicitly states where its set. However, having the Queen of England (Scott Thompson’s version) make a cameo approving the drug is the only time that the film being set in Canada is hinted at. It is definitely shot there as the cities of Toronto and Mississauga are both thanked in the end credits.
Later, I went on to lament that this attempt at the end of the run of their show fell on its face and didn’t spawn other Kids in the Hall (KITH) films:
Why this film received such a cold shoulder and is largely overlooked is beyond me. The Kids in the Hall probably could’ve made a slew of films with a colon and their troupe’s effort following it in the title. They could’ve become the 90s incarnation of Monty Python. This film is hugely overlooked and vastly underrated. The franchise here is not the Brain Candy concept but rather the troupe’s brand of comedy transposed onto the big screen. Perhaps in the economically affluent, blasé, Generation X 90s a droll, snide stab at pharmaceutical companies and anti-depressants was not the way to go but it is hilarious. If you haven’t yet checked out their one and only feature length film to date please do. They still do shows and have appearances in Canada and each member does individual projects but perhaps the harsher times will reawaken the need for KITH as a unit.
Lastly, while still on a high from The Avengers (the first one, obviously) I imagined other properties who could benefit from a similar build-up in phases. KITH was one of them:
I preface this choice by saying I adore Brain Candy, I know I’m in a minority when I say that but I do. However, that’s not to say I wouldn’t love to see a Kids in the Hall film where they play say 995 out of 1000 characters and bring in many of their famous characters. One needs to only see the rendition of a film not unlike Kiss of the Spider Woman that Bruno Puntz Jones (David Foley) and Francesca Fiore (Scott Thompson) do to know how cinematic they can be and how easily they can pull it off.
The film expectedly and boldly uses the kids as a number of characters each:
Dave Foley as Marv / Psychiatrist / New guy / Raymond Hurdicure;
Bruce McCulloch as Alice / Cisco / Grivo / Worm pill scientist / Cop #2 / Cancer boy / White-trash man;
Kevin McDonald as Dr. Chris Cooper / Doreen / Chris’ dad / Lacey;
Mark McKinney as Simon / Don Roritor / Cabbie / Gunther / Cop #1 / Nina Bedford / Melanie / Drill sergeant / White-trash woman;
and Scott Thompson as Baxter / Mrs. Hurdicure / Wally Terzinsky / Malek / Big Stummies scientist / The Queen / Raj / Clemptor.
I’ve completed the Megaset of the entire series since watching this film last (just to make sure I’d seen them all) and, thus, the characters from the show making an appearance are more noticeable now. They are the Cops, White-Trash Man and White-Trash Woman, The Queen, and Cancer Boy, and we’ll get to him more later. All the other characters listed above were creations made for the film, some are variations on types the Kids already played some were entirely new.
As per usual with the show as well all five kids are rarely in the same scene, on the odd occasion some of them even play against themselves. However, what makes this film work is far more than the KITH being up to their usual tricks.
Firstly, they found in this story of those developing a revolutionary anti-depressant and those who may or may not need to use it a way to tell a unified story and still keep a sketchy-feel to it. Therefore, it’s the perfect transitional project from one medium to another. Since then I met someone who happened to work on the film and they told me how frustrating it was to have to incessantly run off copies of new script pages due to frequent rewrites. I can see how this could be frustrating and how this could happen. You craft a sketch and if it works great, that character may recur, if it fails you can move on and hope it’s forgotten. Film, for those used to getting a reaction from a live audience is a tough medium, and this perfectionism is nothing less than I’d expect from these five.
The film works because in large part there are memorable, hilarious moments in all the various prongs this story tackles. However, as silly as it can be it is a moderately-positioned send up over-medication; the fine-line between wanting to be happy all the time and depression. It takes a hard, skeptical look at the pharmaceutical industry, as one of key plot points is that they are pushing for the drug to go non-prescription, that in the light of the comas the drug is inducing. It’s set up to go there as budget cuts in research pressure the lead character Chris, played by Kevin McDonald, to state the drug is ready when they clearly need to do more testing on it. His becoming a rock star for inventing the drug and the eventual, final coup of critique wherein the coma victims are venerated like deities.
Flashbacks and memory are two great motifs that can be uniquely used in film, if not unique to the medium itself. I usually respond very well to both and the film uses both prominently and perfectly as the drug seeks to have the depressed subject “lock on to their happiest memory chemically.” It’s a great set-up that makes for some hilarious (and depressing) happiest memories.
Some of the memorable moments in Brain Candy include but are not limited to:
I remember watching this with my uncle in Brazil and he cracked up at this part. Sadly, we’re not yet living in a world that will shot “Who cares?” at such an announcement.
“You are gay!”
“This urine is great!”
“A Pill That Gives Worms to Ex-Girlfriends”
“I wanna talk about drugs…”
The film tanking is actually unsurprising considering this article. As they were set to reunite for live shows (one of which I saw!) Bruce confirmed Paramount wanted Cancer Boy cut from the film, they wouldn’t budge, and Paramount retaliated by cutting their advertising budget, and many screens for the film vanished. Sadly, I get the reaction on both sides. The Cancer Boy scene is one I laugh at while shaking my head and saying “That’s so messed up,” but I still laugh. I get Paramount wanting it cut but am not sure I get them cutting off their nose to spite their face. The article also features a video Siskel and Ebert battling over the film, as per usual, I’m with Gene.
I also love some of the more hidden jokes in the film like Drug Variety magazine, cameos by Brendan Fraser, Adam Reid of You Can’t Do That On Television (“Chris Cooper signed my scar!”) and some others like Missus Hurdicure’s tea never stops falling or “Ne allez-vous pas au media,” and Don Roritor being essentially another rendition of Lorne Michaels.
The three month time leap the film takes is risky but allows it to be a rise-to-and-fall-from-fame story as well for Cooper’s character and underlines how humanity often doesn’t listen to advice that’s given to us in out own best interest. The hidden coma victims, then the spin of comatose living communities is genius and fitting. As is when Roritor tries to certify Chris as being clinically depressed, thus, forcing him to take his own medication. Another gamble was that the film features a stinger, which was a bit more unusual in the mid-to-late ‘90s than it is now.
The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy may not have been a hit even if Paramount dedicated more resources to it, maybe it was always destined to have a cult status because The Kids in the Hall aren’t for everyone. And that’s OK. If there’s one mistake this Canadian troupe never made it’s that of pandering. They do material they believe in and if you don’t like it, that’s fine, there are plenty of other safer, more boring acts out there. Always daring and avant guard, I’m grateful for this film maybe more so than the series as I’ve enjoyed it several times over.
I now leave you with some thoughts Dave Foley shares regarding the differences between the US and Canada. Per the set-up most of the Canadian facts are fabricated, as it’s KITH most are hilarious and it ends perfectly and with a point as Brain Candy does. It’s a great sketch and this is a great film by my favorite troupe.