If Lenny Bruce were Sarah Silverman, perhaps he wouldn't have gotten into so much trouble. And that isn't because Silverman's material lacks provocationquite the contrary, unless a gag about de-boning Ethiopian babies for their tailbones counts as Seinfeld-esquebut her sweet, coquettish delivery has a way of coating the foulest gags with a dusting of sugar. On paper, half the jokes in her ingratiating concert film Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic are baldly offensive, even in the sort of post-P.C., post-South Park, libertarian Wild West where The Aristocrats can be a smash. Throughout the performance, Silverman riffs freely on racial and ethnic stereotypes, but she's not interested in exploding them so much as luxuriantly bathing in them. She invites the audience in while the water is warm. Lines like "The best time to have a baby is when you're a black teenager" are funny because of the dissonance between the confrontational bluntness of the thought and her innocent, oopsy-daisy tone, which allows her to get some distance.
Unlike most stand-up concert films, Jesus Is Magic lays waste to the standing framing device of excited theatergoers shuffling in and out of the theater, buzzing with anticipation before the show and looking wrung-out with laughter afterward. Instead, Silverman and director Liam Lynch open with a clever sketch about Silverman's rivalry with a pair of successful show-biz friends (Brian Posehn and Laura Silverman) that segues into the first (and strongest) of several musical numbers and sketches scattered throughout the film. Playing off her vanity and callousness, from a ballistic star-fit about the wrong bottled water ("This water tastes too thick!") to a cheery "You're gonna die" number sung in a nursing home, these interludes break the standard concert-film formula, but not always in productive ways. Silverman strives, at least ironically, to be a full-fledged entertainer, something more robust and far-ranging than just a stand-up comedian, but her command wavers when she isn't on stage telling jokes. A more concentrated hour of straightforward stand-up, shot in the unfussy style of an HBO special, might have served her talents a little better, though at least she's trying something different. Though Silverman's edginess never quite crosses into social consequence, she's a brilliant craftswoman on stage, blessed with crack timing and an ability to massage each line to maximum effect. In Jesus Is Magic, she lobs grenade after grenade and deftly scatters before they blow up in her face.