Saving Silverman
review by Gregory Avery, 9 February 2001

Saving Silverman starts out as a proudly vulgar, irreverent comedy about two friends trying to save a third from a disastrous marriage, but, by the time it reaches the end, it has become something else entirely -- annoying, immensely boring, and, as if it were possible, more.

J.D. (the brilliant comedian Jack Black) and Wayne (Steve Zahn, shaggy and scruffy but without the real dopiness that was beginning to turn him into the modern day equivalent of Gabby Hayes) see their friend Darren (Jason Biggs) being completely and totally subjugated by his fiance Judith (Amanda Peet). She changes his style, his clothes, his taste, his friends -- and Darren seems to be enjoying obeying her every whim. J.D. and Wayne then decide, before he gets married to this attractive gorgon, to abduct her, hold her captive ( la John Fowles' The Collector) in the basement of their house, and then tell Darren that Judith has gone on to a better world before steering him towards going out with Sandy (Amanda Detmer), who reveals herself to be the perfect match for Darren when, out of the blue, she starts crooning some of the lyrics to a song by Darren's (and J.D. and Wayne's) all-time favorite recording artist, Neil Diamond.

In retrospect, the picture should have been a lot more appealing than it is. But the filmmakers -- including director Dennis Dugan, whose previous comedy, Big Daddy, was about the joys of urinating in public -- cop-out and try and create humor by dumping on everyone and everything. Nothing is off-limits -- there are jokes about kids spitting up milk in the school cafeteria, raccoons, old people with no trousers on, people who look funny, amateur magicians, and that's just in the first five-to-ten minutes alone. But the filmmakers also hold up the characters whom we are supposed to be sympathizing with in order to humiliate them and score an easy laugh. People are sent crashing down staircases, falling out of windows, and flung with such  force against various forms of pavement that it makes one wince, and we're supposed to be laughing our heads off over all this. It's not humor, it's insensitivity (and bad filmmaking, since you need a Geiger counter to find out where the plot is), and by the time the characters start being repeatedly tortured by electric shock devices, you may simply decide (as I did) that you've had enough. Since the filmmakers don't care about the characters, why should we?

Amanda Peet is stuck playing a character that has absolutely no saving graces: she's strictly defined as being cruel, conniving, deceitful, distrustful -- a misogynist's dream. Yet she is also presented in a series of outfits that are designed to not only inform us that she is not wearing an undergarment, but which give us a chance to look at more than just a share of cleavage. This style of peek-a-boo filmmaking is, in a word, sleazy, and when the filmmakers start pulling it on Amanda Detmer's character, one wonders if the filmmakers are revealing a little more about how their own fears and regard towards women than they had intended.

Except for a quick joke at the beginning of the film, there doesn't seem to be any real reason why the three protagonists, J.D., Wayne and Darren (who also put on black wigs and sequined shirts to play in a makeshift band, Diamonds in the Rough, during their off hours) should idolize Neil Diamond -- for all it matters, they might as well be worshiping Lionel Ritchie or Matt Monro -- unless it's ironic, since the film makes clear that none of the guys have any sort of romantic or sex life, and Diamond's recordings, of course, have been prime make-out music for years. It does give an excuse for Diamond himself -- with less hair, now, but otherwise none the worse for wear -- to stick his head into the film, once at the beginning and once at the end, looking  like someone who has just realized he has been given directions that have led him to the wrong street address.  He has.

Directed by:
Dennis Dugan

Starring:
Jason Biggs
Jack Black
Steve Zahn
Amanda Detmer
Amanda Peet.

Written by:
Hank Nelken
Greg DePaul

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned
Some material ma
be inappropriate for
children under 13

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