I’ve fallen behind on the movie reviews — so this one might be brief. As a nightcap (and highbrow/lowbrow change-up) to Ballets Russes on Friday, I also partook of Jesus is Magic, comedienne Sarah Silverman’s new concert film. And, while it has some decently amusing moments amid the live footage, this doesn’t feel like a movie so much as a glorified HBO special, particularly once you factor in the egregiously unfunny songs and skits included to pad out the material. Silverman is an endearing presence (even given the 9/11, Holocaust, and ethnic jokes) with impeccable comic timing, but she eventually wears out her welcome here in Jesus is Magic.
So, in case you haven’t heard of her (or didn’t see her in The Aristocrats), Silverman’s schtick in a nutshell is “cute, well-mannered, narcissistic girl saying vile and horrifying things,” and most of the humor comes from either the shock of her words or the disconnect between her looks and her material. And Silverman does have some funny lines along the way, if you’re ok with her anything-goes style of humor: She remembers 9/11 as “devastating…especially for me, because it happened to be the exact same day I found out that a soy chai latte was, like, 900 calories.” To motivate her niece, she tells her ” that every time she loses at tag, an angel gets AIDS,” and that “when God gives you AIDS…make LemonAIDS.“
From vanity Holocaust tattoos (her aunt’s was “Bedazzled”) to racist jokes (“I don’t care if you think I’m racist, I just want you to think I’m thin.”), Silverman shows again and again that she’s more than willing to veer over into tastelessness and back again for the sake of a laugh. But, after awhile, one gets the sense that there’s little more to her persona than shock value. When other comics invoke racial stereotypes — Richard Pryor and Chris Rock come to mind — it’s often as much about social commentary as it is about the joke at hand. But Silverman just seems to let social taboos do all the work — her gags don’t go anywhere, and the only thing funny or resonant about them is the “Did she really just say that?” factor. Throw in the lame songs, most of which are even worse than an after-the-musical-guest SNL skit, and Jesus is Magic ends up being rather a unmagical theater experience. Like I said, this might’ve worked as a decent HBO comedy special, but it’s not a movie by any stretch of the imagination, filthy or not.