Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic Movie Review

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Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic is like sweet, feature-length revenge for the relatively small,l but almost assuredly scarred, minority of comics and actors who didn't quite make it on Saturday Night Live. Indeed, my first exposure to Silverman was as a teenage fan of SNL, weathering a mid-nineties bad patch; she was funny, with her gee-whiz energy and off-kilter delivery, but the show didn't know what to do with her, and she was off within a year.

She then opted to write her own ticket, returning to stand-up, making occasional film appearances, and honing Jesus is Magic, the one-woman mostly-stand-up show, now available as a feature film. The film version combines her standup act with a handful of cutaways to songs and skits. A few of her comic buddies make appearances, but as Silverman informs us during the opening number, the film is really about her, and only her.

This isn't entirely a good thing, but not for the reasons you might expect. The narcissism is the subtext of most stand-up comedy anyway, so it's not particularly off-putting, and besides, Silverman is very funny. Her specialty is a unique style of deadpan one-liner that combines old-school joke-telling (she doesn't tell stories or even riff on a single subject for an extended period) with new-school shock and irony (many of her jokes depend on her acting self-involved, racist, spoiled, etc.). I hesitate to quote too much of her material as examples, as nearly every review or magazine profile of her falls back on this tactic, giving away some of this film's best jokes, but here's one short, oft-repeated line: "I was raped by a doctor, which is bittersweet for a Jewish girl." Jesus is Magic contains at least two dozen more, equally disturbing and hilarious. Silverman's act is often described as deliberately offensive, but it's more a celebration of how silliness can be applied to potentially appalling subjects like AIDS, the Holocaust, 9/11, and so on.

So the problem isn't the film's all-Sarah approach, but that Silverman's style of comedy isn't particularly well-suited to the concert-film format. Her routines don't really build or develop; occasionally, she calls back to a previous line, but not with any real finesse or visible strategy. This is fine on its own - so many comics' observational anecdotes don't go anywhere new or fresh - but on film it's not unlike watching a rock-performance doc about a singles band; album tracks aren't there to tie everything together.

The skits and songs work, as far as they go, towards supplying a little connective tissue. They're directed by Liam Lynch with the same low-budget energy he brought to his cult MTV series Sifl and Olly. The bookending sequences, beginning with Silverman listening as two fellow actors (Brian Posehn and Laura Silverman) list their recent career breakthroughs as our star grits her teeth, strike particularly harsh and funny chords, and it differs from the one-liner rhythm that dominates much of the material between them.

There aren't enough of these moments; other cutaways, like a sing-songy ode to crude stereotypes, are short bursts of musical comedy where an escalating production number could've brought down the house. It's not that Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic fails its basic purpose, to amuse: I laughed throughout, and it would probably be among the best HBO comedy specials of the year. But a feature film presents the opportunity for something more freewheeling and creative than a succession of funny lines; Jesus is Magic dips in a few toes when it should be walking on water.

The DVD includes a commentary track from the director and Silverman, behind the scenes footage, and a video of "Give the Jew Girl Toys."

Fear my skull.

Cast & Crew

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Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 2005


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