Sarah Silverman tells jokes about the Holocaust and 9/11, AIDS and slaves, Jesus Christ and her dying grandmother.
She refers to Asians as “chinks” and anyone Hispanic as a Mexican. She is equal opportunity in the relentlessness of her remarks: No one emerges unscathed.
Silverman is also undeniably cute and irresistibly likable, with a big smile and bright eyes and an almost childlike enthusiasm in her little-girl voice.
And therein lies the paradox of her shtick, on full display in her quasi-concert film/musical, “Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic.”
Silverman’s humor is not so much observational but confrontational. She forces you to confront your own foibles and prejudices, as well as the rampant political correctness designed to change such attitudes, by energetically embracing them. Unlike some comics who draw their laughs through self-deprecation, Silverman comes off as a shameless, radiant narcissist.
“I don’t care if you think I’m racist,” she says toward the end. “I just want you to think I’m thin.”
It’s all a put-on, of course. But her timing is so perfectly deliberate, she’s bound to fool many people who are too literal-minded to be in on the joke. If these comments came out of anyone else’s mouth, they’d be considered inexcusably offensive. Taking that risk — assuming that you can figure out for yourself whether she’s kidding or not — shows that she’s fearless, and that’s incredibly exciting to watch.
At least for a while, anyway. One weakness Silverman and director Liam Lynch reveal in “Jesus is Magic” is that a little bit of the gimmick goes a long way. Many of her jokes are breathtakingly funny in their wrongness (“I was raped by a doctor, which is a bittersweet experience for a Jewish girl”). But after less than an hour the motif feels redundant, worn-out, and the interspersed musical numbers, ostensibly intended to break up and enliven the traditional concert-film structure, only drag the pacing to a halt.
The intentionally campy songs (which Silverman wrote and performs, and the girl can sing) are high-energy but surprisingly low in creativity. In one, she holds up various ethnic stereotypes — “I love you more than Jews love money ... I love you more than Asians love math” — while dressed as a go-go dancer and playing the guitar, but she goes for the obvious cliche, providing no sharp insight. A couple of fake backstage conversations (with her sister, actress Laura Silverman, and fellow comedians Bob Odenkirk and Brian Posehn) also feel a bit forced.
Silverman herself is so bewitching, though, you want to like the movie more. Her appearance in “The Aristocrats” is one of the funniest segments in a film populated by eclectic, talented comics, and she consistently brings the house down during the annual Friars Club roasts.
Seeing her in any form — even in a film that’s flawed — is magical in itself. She’s easily one of the most compelling, clever comics working today — male or female.