By Daniel Barnes
*Dared by Matt B.
Over a decade ago in a college newspaper review of Little Nicky, I wrote, “Adam Sandler is truly his generation’s Jerry Lewis,” with everything great and terrible that statement implies.” It’s a fairly obvious point that has been expanded upon by both supporters and detractors of Sandler’s for years, most recently in an excellent Vulture piece by New York film critic Bilge Ebiri. Besides the obvious symmetry of schizophrenic man-child stock characters, both Lewis and Sandler have the potential to touch the dark and upsetting reaches of the human psyche through their comedy. That’s great, except that Lewis and Sandler also want to be loved and desired, and so that vulgar subversion transforms into sleazy unction without even changing hairstyles.
Sandler’s great dichotomy has always been the divide between underplaying and going over-the-top, between trying too hard and not trying at all. On Saturday Night Live and in his early film roles, he became famous for vacillating between a shy, borderline “special” sort of giggly apathy and pointed, almost terrifying expressions of pure, raging id. Jack and Jill pushes that dichotomy towards its cynical endgame.
Playing estranged twins in this utterly repellent PG family comedy, Sandler predictably goes Bond-villain big as the wrecking ball sister, while barely registering as living flesh in the part of the straight-arrow Jack. The fact that his lazy, smirking turn as Jack is ultimately more annoying than his squawking, malaprop-spewing Jill (who at one point rushes into the bathroom with an audible outbreak of the “chocolate squirties”) speaks volumes about the film’s comedic bankruptcy and overall apathy. Clearly, Sandler treats his audience with contempt…and why not? God knows they’ve earned it.
Of course, you could hardly expect more from an actor who freely admits to treating films as working vacations. Perhaps blame can be assigned to director Dennis Dugan – a former television bit player and long-time Sandler collaborator, the 67 year-old Dugan helmed a couple of Sandler’s early comedies (most notably Happy Gilmore) before expanding his cinematic vision with National Security and Beverly Hills Ninja. Ever since 2007, however, he has become Sandler’s house director, and his last six films have all been Sandler “family” comedies. Given the results, it is safe to assume that Dugan also views movie shoots as working vacations.
Not surprisingly, most of the third act in Jack and Jill takes place on a cruise ship, and the film has to bend over backwards to get its characters on this narratively pointless sea voyage alongside extras that look suspiciously like Sandler’s children. There is an argument that Sandler is right to view his life’s work with such money-grubbing and self-serving contempt, and that the box office successes of Sandler’s high-concept, “family friendly” dreck are their own justifications for existence. To that I can only respond: if profit margins are all that matter, then Sandler would do even better investing in bum fights, snuff films, and hardcore gonzo pornography, so look for all of those lighthearted PG romps in theaters next February.
There is a long tradition of cross-dressing in movie comedies, from the silent era to White Chicks, but Jack and Jill continues the sad and pathetic vein of misogyny that has always run through Sandler’s work. Dustin Hoffman’s character in Tootsie dressed in women’s clothes to win a plum role, yet found that he understood and appreciated women more after walking in their shoes. In Jack and Jill, Sandler dresses in women’s clothes to arrive at the conclusion that non-feminine women are disgusting and unlovable wildebeasts. The “heartwarming” twist to the ending is that Jack pimps his twin sister out to a poor Mexican laborer rather than to a rich Hollywood jerk. All together now: awwwww. Made while she was still Tom Cruise’s hostage wife, Jack and Jill casts an anesthetized-looking Katie Holmes as Adam Sandler’s wife hostage wife, although she’s only around to embody Sandler/Dugan’s other female archetype – the slim, smoking-hot, eye-rolling wife with no personality who abides idiocy and abuse in contented silence.
After a certain point, probably the exact point that Shaquille O’Neal popped up in a stringy gray wig to lick a honey-glazed ham, notions of time and space became meaningless. Jack and Jill boasts a svelte running time of 91 minutes, but there is a single dinner scene that feels longer than all of the dinner parties in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie put together, with the dinner party from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit where dwarves sing songs for half an hour thrown in for good measure. All attempts at wit are an insult to the limitless capacity of the human mind, and only the film’s weird factor keeps it from becoming completely unwatchable.
Jack is a mid-level commercial director who naturally lives in a lavish mansion, but early on he learns that his job is in jeopardy (“Or something.” “Is he going bankrupt?” “Whatever.” “Should we even write it?” “Fuck it, no one cares. “Cool, let’s go play frisbee golf.”) unless he can convince the Al Pacino to appear in a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial. Pacino plays himself here, and there is also a brief, self-mocking cameo from Johnny Depp, as well as a host of D-list celebs milling in the back of party scenes. I don’t know what convinced Depp and Pacino to debase their legacies even further than they already have, but I am one hundred percent convinced that Michael Irvin and Jared from Subway view the filmmaking process as a paid vacation.
Lest you think Pacino’s part in Jack and Jill is a mere walk-on, let me be clear– Pacino is in this film A LOT, and if you thought he was terrible in Scent of a Woman, then you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Luckily, by the time Pacino completely took over the film, my fourth beer had kicked in, and many of the finer details of the film began to escape the grasp of my consciousness. Sufficed to say that my notes became littered with barely comprehensible scrawls like, “What is Pacino doing?”; “Fuck this movie”; “Pacino = stop”; “Embarrassing”; “Fuck the shit outta this movie”, and “Is Pacino OK?”. Finally, without even looking down from the screen, I scribbled “farts crotches farts.”
Let me repeat that: “farts crotches farts.” It’s a sentiment that could easily be the tagline for Jack and Jill, and could just as easily serve as the epitaph for Sandler’s comedic relevance.
*Obviously, Daniel and George C. Scott were not big fans of Jack and Jill, but nevertheless the floor is open for dares for the June Dare Daniel review. Post your dares here or on our Facebook page, or message your dare to Daniel on Twitter with the hashtag “#daredaniel”. ESFS will return later this week with Netflix Instant reviews of Let the Fire Burn and The Piano Teacher, reviews of films playing in this weekend’s San Francisco International Film Festival, and the wrap-up to our Psychology in Film festival. Our next ESFS Festival, in which we cover all six of French director Eric Rohmer’s Moral Tales, kicks off next Monday.