There are a few things I try not to do with these posts. First, I try not to use too many adjectives. I used to be better at this one. For fun, just go back and do a search for “incredibly.” I was using it twice a post, which is two times too many. Second, I try not to write the post before I even start reading or watching the text. With Jesus is Magic, since it’s a comedy concert with musical discretions, I had something I could say before I watched it. I could say, I had no idea how to write up a concert film. I’ve only seen a few (HBO comedy specials don’t count and neither does Comedian) and they were all music concerts and I had nothing to say about them after watching them (even though it was long before The Stop Button). So, I didn’t think I’d have anything to say about Jesus is Magic.
Luckily, Jesus is Magic isn’t good, so I can easily say quite a few things about it.
I was never a standup comic guy… I’ve never seen one live and between watching Comic Relief tapes in the late 1980s, I didn’t see any actual standup until Seinfeld’s I’m Telling You for the Last Time on DVD in 1999–so probably ten years, but maybe nine. I heard some (Chris Rock’s Bigger & Blacker) in 1999, actually, as well. The fiancée, however, loves standup (she thinks Seinfeld’s standup bits are funnier than the episodes of “Seinfeld”). She’s reintroduced me to Carlin and we’ve watched all the Chris Rock HBO specials. I’m somewhat familiar with standup now and–especially after Comedian–I have a real appreciate for good standup. Sarah Silverman is not a good standup comic. She’s also not a good singer and songwriter, but I’ll get to that part in a paragraph or two.
Jesus is Magic is funny–the title line comes from a funny joke about Silverman and her Catholic boyfriend having kids (“Mommy is one of the Chosen People and Daddy believes Jesus is magic”)–but not really… Silverman has outrageous setups and awful closes. She’s faithful to her shtik above all–she’s an egocentric Jewish girl who talks about race and sex and smokes pot–but her observations about race and sex are old hat. I’ve seen all of Silverman’s jokes on “Family Guy,” except maybe some of the Jewish ones, and they work better on “Family Guy” because it does visual presentation of comedy. Most of the glowing reviews I read online–I was excited for Jesus is Magic from the great preview, but from the first three minutes I could tell how it was going to go–most of the reviewers hung out with Silverman after the screening, before they wrote their reviews. I hate using they. English needs a male plural. Besides men. I need a masculine form of reviewers dammit. I think I should brush up on my French and start publishing The Stop Button in French. Not a fan of the contractions, but it’s a nice language. Anyway, I didn’t hang with Silverman. I wouldn’t like her, I don’t think. We wouldn’t have anything to talk about. Liking her standup is buying into it–you’ve got to part of the group. Silverman only tells jokes she knows her audience will find funny. She plays only to her demographic. In other words, you’ve got to be the white person who thinks he or she isn’t racist so you can laugh at Silverman’s race jokes. It might work better in the film if there were any Asian people visible in the audience. I think I saw a black guy, but I might be wrong. Or maybe Silverman really is funny and the joke is white people laughing about racism….
Then it would be funny. Instead, it’s “Family Guy,” only not good.
But Silverman’s set is only about forty-minutes out of the seventy minute movie. The rest are either scene–the terrible opening five minutes–or musical numbers. The musical numbers are well-produced, the songs just aren’t any good. It’s some of the jokes in the songs. It’s not funny. Especially when Silverman does a song recounting material she just did… They’re superfluous. Though the editing is nice. The editing is about the only technical aspect of Jesus is Magic I can find something nice to say about. The direction is bad. It alternates between an overhead long shot, close-up, and a torso shot. Silverman doesn’t move very much and I kept thinking the director should have been watching some HBO specials. There’s also no transparency about the making of the film. There’s a dumb story and dumb song about she throws it all together in one day, but there are four or five cameras on her. That grandiose camera setup is not part of jokey agreement of the film. It’s slick and the film never says it’s going to be slick.
When the film actually came out last fall (all the glowing fanboy reviews were from festival screenings), Jesus is Magic did not get good reviews. The critics were offended, in particular, by 9/11 jokes. They should have been offended by the film, not those jokes. Those jokes were pretty damn funny… but the film isn’t.
Directed and edited by Liam Lynch; written by Sarah Silverman; director of photography, Rhet Baer; produced by Heidi Herzon, Mark Williams and Randy Sosin; released by Roadside Attractions.