American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic" is a movie that filled me with an urgent desire to see Sarah Silverman in a different movie. I liked everything about it except the writing, the direction, the editing and the lack of a parent or adult guardian. There should have been somebody to stand up sadly after the first screening and say, "Sarah, honey, this isn't the movie you want people to see. Your material needs a lot of work, the musical scenes are deadly, except for the first one. And it looks like it was edited by someone fooling around with iMovie on a borrowed Macintosh."
Apparently the only person capable of telling Sarah Silverman such things is Sarah Silverman, and she obviously did not. Maybe the scene of her kissing herself in the mirror provides a clue. The result is a film that is going to make it hard to get people to come to the second Sarah Silverman film. Too bad, because Silverman is smart, funny and blindsides you with unexpected U-turns. She could be the instrument for abrasive and transgressive humor that would slice through the comedy club crap. But here, she isn't.
You have seen her before. She started in "Saturday Night Live" and has been in 15 movies and a lot of TV shows. She's tall, brunette and good-looking, and she says shocking things with the precise enunciation and poise of a girl who was brought up knowing how to make a good impression. The disconnect between what she says and how she says it is part of the effect. If she were crass and vulgar, her material would be insupportable: If you're going to use cancer, AIDS and 9/11 as punch lines, you'd better know how to get the permission of the audience. She does it by seeming to be too well-bred to realize what she's saying. She's always correcting herself. When she uses the word retards she immediately registers that it's non-PC and elaborates: "When I say 'retards,' I mean they can do anything."
So that's one of her lines. It would be a cheap shot for me to quote a dozen more, and do her act here in the review. Better to stand back and see why she's funny but the movie doesn't work. The first problem is with timing. None of her riffs go on long enough to build. She gets a laugh, and then another one, maybe a third, and then she starts in a different direction. We want her to keep on, piling one offense on top of another. We want to see her on a roll.