Saving Silverman

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Saving Silverman (2001) is one of those films that dominated cable movie channels in the middle of the day throughout the mid-2000s. It’s a film that I encountered in a disjointed, fractured, collage-like version of its actual form. I saw Saving Silverman out of sequence for years before I actually sat down and watched it from beginning to end. The thing that kept this mediocre comedy on my radar in those days was the concept that three guys in their twenties circa 2001 would be such hardcore Neil Diamond fans that they formed their own Neil Diamond cover band.

It’s a concept that would feel equally at home in Harmony Korine’s Mr. Lonely (2007) as it does in the oeuvre of director Dennis Dugan. The funniest parts of Saving Silverman all revolve around the admiration that these three best friends (Steve Zahn, Jason Biggs, and Jack Black) have for Neil Diamond. The number of times that characters sing “Hello Again” from The Jazz Singer (1980) in this movie is hilarious and absurd. It’s one of Diamond’s worst lyrics and most saccharine melodies yet Saving Silverman treats this trite bit of pop music as a kind of anthem.

What is more incredible is that Neil Diamond seems in on this joke. Diamond has an extended cameo at the end of the film when all the lead characters break off into couples and are married. Neil Diamond’s turn in Saving Silverman has nothing on William Shatner’s role in Free Enterprise (1999) though both metaphysical appearances essentially make the same statements about the male fanbases of these respective performers. In these two films, both Diamond and Shatner function as idealized paternal figures chosen by their fictional fans as guides into the world of adulthood.

The plot of Saving Silverman specifically requires the kind of paternal figure that Diamond promises. Saving Silverman is a film about the anxieties in male friendships as members of these intimate networks begin to partner off with spouses, lovers, wives and husbands beyond their friend group. This is naturally taken to extremes in the film with the kidnapping of Amanda Peet to keep Biggs from marrying her. The highly stylized extremes with which masculine insecurities are explored draws attention to the artificiality of the “marriage plot” that so often defines the romantic comedy. Saving Silverman is a kind of idiot’s post-modern rendering of An Ideal Husband.

But being a comedy of the early 2000s much of the humor in Saving Silverman is casually racist and/or homophobic. It’s problematic to be sure, but nowhere near as offensive as some of the other comedies produced during this same period. Luckily the Neil Diamond segments and some legitimately off-the-wall humor generally help to elevate the film. One of the strangest and most successful gags in the film is the scene in which Amanda Detmer proves that she can still lift Jason Biggs over her head.

Despite all of these unique characteristics peppered throughout Saving Silverman the film was a critical and financial dud. Saving Silverman is the kind of critique of masculine identity that feels more of 2023 than it does of 2001. With the exception of a handful of jokes, much of Saving Silverman is still funny and still relevant. It may not deserve a full-on reappraisal but it does deserve a better reputation than it currently has.