Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic (2005)

reviewed by
David N. Butterworth

A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2005 David N. Butterworth
**1/2 (out of ****)

Sarah Silverman's all-too brief bit in this year's "unspeakably obscene" "The Aristocrats," in which she reminisced about the time she was, ahem, "compromised" by veteran TV host Joe Franklin was, it turned out, the silver lining in that one-joke (one very *dirty* joke) movie, a documentary that ultimately became clouded by soporific excess and repetition of the gross-out kind.

Validation, therefore, arrives in the form of "Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic," an occasionally uproarious performance film (mostly) that features the former star of HBO's "Mr. Show with Bob and David" doing what she does best: standing up, talking, and making us laugh. "'Jesus is Magic" is a no holes barred vehicle for the just turned 35-year-old comedienne that proves she can go the feature-length distance. Well, for 70 minutes at least.

You could call it "Saving Silverman" had not a completely unrelated teen comedy already been made with that title.

Much of "'Jesus is Magic"'s footage, directed with love and affection but not much creativity by Tenacious D videographer Liam Lynch, constitutes a filmed record of Silverman's El Portal Theater performance in North Hollywood from last year. In that regard it's much like Margaret Cho's stand-up routines that became the films "I'm The One That I Want" and "Notorious C.H.O." (although Silverman rarely contorts her face into weird shapes and waits fifteen minutes for her audience to react).

But like her comedic female counterpart, Silverman gets off on being irreverent (to put it mildly). More specifically she skewers just about everyone-gays, Asians, pornographers, Jews, midgets, Nazis, grandmothers, Mexicans, even J.C. himself--and every "taboo" subject imaginable, from rape to AIDS to the Holocaust (and she's not done there--you need a pretty strong constitution to laugh at jokes about 9/11 even now).

When Silverman is on, on stage that is, she's pretty darned funny. Her only prop, apart from her sexy, spoiled Jewish American Princess persona, is a bottle of Fiji water and she flits from risqué subject to even riskier subject confidently, playing her audience with ease. But for some reason the filmmakers (director Lynch and Silverman herself, who wrote the piece) are not confident enough in the live material alone and pad "'Jesus is Magic"'s scant running time with a handful of weak music videos and some mediocre opening/closing narrative featuring a couple of friends (one of whom is Sarah's sister Laura) whose recent Comedy Central successes cause Sarah to lie about how she's written some play/movie/musical thing and then panics when her friends, naturally enough, want to attend the show.

Silverman's shtick is faux ignorance coupled with mock outrage all to a decidedly un-PC beat. And she does deadpan extremely well. Good girl, bad mouth.

That said, as a film "Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic" isn't altogether together; it opts too often for mediocrity when "Big S" starts getting particularly ruthless. But if "'Jesus is Magic" then God is, without a doubt, a Woman: Sarah Silverman.

David N. Butterworth

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