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Saving Silverman

Director: Dennis Dugan
Cast: Jason Biggs, Amanda Peet, Jack Black, Steve Zahn, R. Lee Ermey, Amanda Detmer, Neil Diamond

(Columbia - Sony; 2001)

Fearless

I’d say it’s official: Amanda Peet is the reigning go-to-girl for neo-romantic comedies involving nasty jokes about death, sex, and what might be best described as “control issues.” In this role, she is fearless. She has showed repeatedly that she is willing to pratfall like a pro, look foolish, and give as good as she takes, in short, to play the most threatening object imaginable by witless, untalented boys—a brainy woman with balls. While she’s awfully cute on the WB’s Felicity mid-season replacement, Jack and Jill, she shines when she’s called on to take down badly behaving men. Consider her break-out performance in last year’s The Whole Nine Yards, in which she played a wannabe assassin eager to show off her skills and assets, to the delight of hitman and mentor Bruce Willis. Or better, think of (but don’t bother renting) last year’s Whipped, where she played a 20something professional something-or-other who teaches harsh, well-deserved lessons to three singularly unintelligent lovers who see themselves as “players.”


In Saving Silverman, Peet is again set against an array of moronic guys, but this time, she gets hers. While you might think that her come-uppance delivers a certain satisfaction, for me, the point of Peet’s sleek and self-confident advantage is only enhanced by the repeated beat-downs she suffers in this film. But then, I’m not the film’s target audience, gauging by the promotional campaign that stresses the fact that it’s directed by the man who brought you Big Daddy. While the argument has been made that Dennis Dugan’s last film revealed Adam Sandler’s sweet and lovable side (who knew he even had one!?), I doubt that anyone will make a similar case for any performer in Saving Silverman. Indeed, this is one of the meanest, silliest, most ridiculous movies I’ve seen in some time: everyone looks bad—selfish, disagreeable, and immature. And truth be told, Amanda Peet looks the worst. Her Judith, affianced to Jason Biggs’ dim-witted Darren Silverman (he’s the one in need of saving—from her), is exceedingly bossy and obnoxious. And yet, she looks very good while looking so bad.


I don’t mean she looks “good” like a girl in a wet t-shirt, a crisp white blouse, or a period costume looks “good”—nothing so superficial as that. I mean she looks brave and brilliant, enduring abuses far beyond those inflicted on most slasher film victims, or even most teen romances. Saving Silverman proves there’s nothing this girl won’t do on camera, including being tasered in the butt, sprayed with beer, and dragged around like a sack of potatoes by Jack Black, not to mention karate-chopping R. Lee Ermey, and perhaps most courageously, licking Arby’s Roast Beef Sauce off Steve Zahn’s finger.


The set-up for these adventures is preposterous and stupid, of course. Judith is the satanic-seeming threat to the lifelong friendship of three boys—Darren, Wayne (Zahn), and J.D. (Black, fabulous as always), united by their shared childhood traumas and their dedication to Coach (former drill sergeant Ermey), who delivers unto them two golden rules: 1) “Stay away from women, because all they want from you is your man juice,” and 2) “Sportsmanship,” which means nothing, as you see Coach repeatedly clunking his players on their heads for the slightest infractions. Most importantly, they share an undying devotion to Neil Diamond, the best songwriter ever! Though the guys admit she’s the “Queen of All Hotties,” Judith’s incursion into Darren’s life leads directly to disaster. He gives up performing in their Neil Diamond cover band, “Diamonds in the Rough,” and spends increasingly less time watching tv and spraying beer with his buds. After Judith spends an afternoon with the guys—and finds herself violently ejected from J.D.‘s potato-chip-infested lounger while she’s covered in flying salsa—she forbids Darren from seeing his friends altogether.


This is too much. And so J.D. and Wayne embark on a plan to save their friend from a sure-to-be calamitous marriage: they kidnap Judith and set up Darren with the girl they know to be the love of his life, former cheerleader and trapeze artist, and current nun-in-training Sandy (Amanda Detmer, smooshed by a bus in Final Destination). Sandy’s so adorable and unthreatening and perfect for Darren (she sings Neil Diamond’s “Hello” endearingly off-key), that there’s no doubt they’re destined to couple. Still, Judith puts up a hell of a fight, determined to have her way. Wayne and J.D. are terrified of her powers, because she’s a psychologist, which means she’s able to mess with their feeble minds whenever she wants. As J.D. fearfully puts it following one encounter, “She used her superior intellect on me. She’s like Hannibal Lecter!” NO question—the woman is diabolical. J.D. and Wayne try to buy her off, but no dice. “Darren’s mine,” she informs the hapless duo. “He’s my puppet and I’m his puppet master.” Ooga-booga.


Of course, for all her obvious superiority, Judith can’t beat the boys, because they are motivated by good intentions—which, by the way, don’t stop them from grave-robbing, driving a car over a cliff so that it explodes in a fiery inferno, seeking advice from Coach when he’s incarcerated for the murder of a football referee, or keeping Judith chained to a chair in their basement for a week. (Like I said, this movie neglects no opportunity for repugnant humor, except—surprise!—excrement). And Judith is just evil, earning every iota of mistreatment inflicted on her exquisite body.


Ironically, though, there’s little satisfaction in seeing Judith lose to the forces of good. The film admits as much, because it grants her her own happy ending, part of the passle of goofballs who get to perform with Neil Diamond on stage under the final credits. After all, in a “Holly Holy” universe, everyone is redeemable.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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