Saving Silverman Dennis Dugan
Published Feb 01, 2001I have to admit I'm perplexed by the target demographic for movies like these. I was waylaid by no fewer than three elderly women as I made my way to the cinema, all pleading with me for my pass. My fellow patrons were filled with such sincere anticipation that it convinced me to suspend my critical faculties for 90 minutes. I decided to let my inner-adolescent-boy happily emerge, spilling popcorn and squirming in anticipation of Jack Black (so good in High Fidelity).
Man, was he ever disappointed. Even the surprisingly competent performance of Neil Diamond can't save this movie. "Saving Silverman" is a limp, plodding mess. The only aspect of the film that isn't unnecessarily convoluted is the premise: three overgrown boys - Wayne (Steve Zahn, "Happy Texas"), JD (Jack Black) and Darren (Jason Biggs, "American Pie") - revel in their underachieving lifestyles by restaging childhood antics and busking on street corners as the "Diamonds in the Rough." This boy-only utopia is disrupted when one of them inadvertently finds a girlfriend. "Judith" is, of course, stunning. And because she is intelligent she is, of course, also a manipulative über-bitch. Judith "forbids" Darren from hanging with his pals, and as can be expected, a gendered tug-of-war ensues.
My expectations for the movie were not huge - it was, after all, directed by someone whose claim to fame is "Problem Child" and "Big Daddy." What was unexpected is that director Dennis Dugan has such a difficult time wringing humour from the story, leading me to believe that the script (by Greg dePaula and Hank Nelken) was leaden to begin with. The film announces itself as the ultimate boy-loyalty fest, but then the plot wanders all over the place. Every detail of our main dudes' personalities is conveyed in the opening scenes, leaving nothing for the audience to be surprised by. And because the characters aren't as endearing as you expect them to be, they become positively loathsome and unfunny by the time the plot gets rolling. I didn't expect any depth from these portrayals, but is it too much to ask for just a wee bit of character development?
There could be something quite amusing about three adult men professing their "mystical, undying love for Neil," (anyone notice the subtext here?) but their reverence is over-orchestrated and therefore flat. The character of Judith is a straw (wo)man, set up for the inept threesome to take down. She is so thoroughly unpleasant that you never believe for a moment that her gullible, sensitive fiancé would keep lapping it up. Equally implausible is the suggestion that she'd tolerate being kidnapped and held hostage by his friends for as long as she does, given what we've seen of her general nastiness, not to mention her martial arts skills.
After what seems like hours of unsurprising revelations (their high school football coach is doing time for homicide, Darren's old flame Sandy has reservations about becoming a nun) director Dennis Dugan makes a desperate grab for the gay card. The audience is so anxious for any unexpected quirk to be revealed that their relieved laughter at the "outing" of one of the trio seems somewhat forced. The downright prissiness with which Dugan handles the homo content, even while he desperately plays it for laughs, is striking. Gay characters in recent comedies such as "Scary Movie" are played way over the top, but Dugan's reliance on innuendo makes the film seem curiously dated.
There are several redeeming comic moments, though they are far too infrequent for the interminable 90 minutes of the film, and they reside solely in the persona of Jack Black, who does what he can with his cardboard role. The scene where Jason Biggs wears electrified nipple-clamps in a form of aversion therapy is the only time that he comes out of the stupor he remains in for the rest of the film, but it is unintentionally erotic rather than slapstick funny. Sadly, the most humorous line of the film is Jack Black's indignant delivery of "Stealer! Of my friend!!" in response to a barrage of insults.
One can read director Dugan's entire "oeuvre" - I use this term loosely - as a manifestation of his reluctance to leave childhood behind. I really wanted to like these ineffectual goofs, but the actors appeared themselves depressed by the shallow lives they were portraying. The films hits bottom when their football coach arrives fresh from prison, and is forced to defecate in their driveway. And the character of Judith functions as a none-too-subtle warning to smart girls everywhere - you'll need to call up all your powers of ironic detachment just to stomach the mean-spiritedness with which these characters are portrayed.
The perpetual adolescence scenario Dugan sketches out in "Saving Silverman" ought to be good for a few laughs, until you realize that the problem is he takes it all quite seriously. He really does believe fervently in the sanctity of the homo-social bond, and he really does think that smart girls should be taught a lesson. In the end, you're left with the unshakeable sense of a director who is as whiny and infantile as the sad characters he so desperately wants you to love.