Jack and Jill (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Jack and Jill (2011)

Note: I'd like to take a moment to remind everyone that our rating system is wholly based on our own reactions to a movie and is not any measure on an objective scale. A positive review does not equal a recommendation. I think you will understand this note in a moment.

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

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So it's come to this. It's time for my turn to defend an Adam Sandler movie; worse, one of his most poorly received, one seen as a direct rebuke to his art house roles in Funny People and Punch Drunk Love.

Somehow I knew this day would come.

Jack and Jill is about a pair of twins both played by Mr. Sandler. On a base level, Jack is a successful commercial director who lives in a mansion in L.A. Jill is his sister from the Bronx who is rude and crude. When she comes to visit, Jack has to put up with her insufferable nature while still trying to use her to hook Al Pacino to do a lucrative television spot.

Sandler's obviously having the most fun as Jill, and she's set up as the most sympathetic character in the film while being simultaneously derided for her less admirable traits: hairy pits, inordinate strength, instinctive condescending tone, gastrointestinal distress and rather unattractive bodily features. These, unsurprisingly, are played for comedy, and are all staples of Sandler's 'classic' comedy persona: loud, brash, and incessantly mocking.

Jack comes from Sandler's newer schtick: he's mean spirited and rude and presents absolutely no redeeming qualities. He takes offense to his assistant making racial stereotypes when he himself does the same. He's unrelentingly cruel to his beautiful wife and mostly indifferent to his two adorable children. He's miserable when he reflects on his past, and can't seem to work up an ounce of enthusiasm for his present, even without Jill around.

Pacino is either insane or brilliant.

The key to understanding what is happening in the movie is to remember that Jill is Sandler through and through, and, to be more specific, her anima is essentially his career and stylings from 1989 to 2003. Jack, the cold, rich, calculating asshole is who he became after Punch Drunk Love failed to transform him into something more. He's self aware and acrimonious, stinging from a decade of feebly attempting to reconcile his serious ambitions with the fact that those ambitions are the antithesis with what's popular and easy.

Woody Allen has talked about these issues that he himself has had in the past:

I once thought there was a good argument between whether it's worth it to make a film where you confront the human condition, or an escape film. You could argue that the Fred Astaire film is performing a greater service than the Bergman film, because Ingmar Bergman is dealing with a problem that you're never going to solve. Whereas with Fred Astaire, you walk in off the street, and for an hour and half they're popping champagne corks and making light banter and you get refreshed, like a lemonade.

I'm sure this is an issue Sandler himself has faced, since a major point of one of his most recent films centered itself on just such a disconnect: Funny People. The issue there is, of course, as one of his highbrow films, it tanked and no one saw it. (Important note: this includes me, because I break into fits of furious rage whenever I'm exposed to Leslie Mann for more than short periods of time.)

Sandler, dejected after another failure, returned to his hostile manchild persona for this year's Just Go With It (or it could be Just Go For It, who really gives a shit), and once again found bags of money sitting for him under the tree, just where he knew it would be.

It's my belief, in some weird twisted way, that Jack and Jill is the story of Sandler trying to come to terms between the bitter man he is (Jack) and the daring wacky character he used to be (Jill).

No, I'm not smoking anything, and, no, you can't have any.

Why, I love Coca Cola. I just feel that I could go for a can for some reason.

For my proof, I ask you to look at both of these characters beyond the facile descriptions I gave above. Jill, despite her faults, spent her life taking care of her mother and taking her brother's constant stream of abuse. She has issues with subtlety that would arise form such an upbringing, but, where things matter the most, she has an uncommon joie de vivre. She's also the stronger character physically, indicating that she's the enduring one.

Jack, on the other hand, is empty, his life an never ending commercial filled with SNL alumni, and his family so disaffected that it seems like his wife has Stockholm syndrome. (His wife is played by Katie Holmes, which makes me think this is an even deeper joke playing on her public and possibly private persona.) All of these facts roll together to create the embodiment of a man on stupefied autopilot. The film's constant product placement reaffirms this character's place as being the modern day Sandler, an embittered shell of what he once stood for and celebrated.

Jill's arc is essentially one of discovering who she truly belongs with, and the film, humorously, has Al Pacino coming onto her strongly. There are some truly funny scenes as Pacino makes his moves, but Jill is more interested in the blue collar Felipe who mostly enjoys making jokes about immigration and his heritage.

To say that Felipe represents Sandler's intended audience and Pacino the critics in the balconies isn't a difficult conclusion to make, considering their cinematic pedigrees. To an extent, Pacino's own arc is similar to Jack's in many ways, where he too yearns to rediscover his past glories and reignite some long dead flames of passion within. That both men seem to see this in Jill rather than Jack represents a failure in both's attempts at finding satisfaction in the critical arena as well as the popular ones.

In this movie, she's nothing. Is this brilliant satire?

This makes Jack and Jill essentially the spiritual successor to Punch Drunk Love, though it may be better the better film since it eschews the art house aura and dares to tell such a complex parable on its own terms. With this in mind, one can see the film as easily a screed against the critics who carefully button their reviews by talking down to their audiences: any reviewer who divides the world into "Sandler fans" and "film lovers" is seeing their own snobbish distinctions mocked and dissected.

I like what it's trying to do and say. I didn't laugh much, though, at least at Jill's antics-- they're a little too blatant for me. Pacino's mad tangents register a number of chortles, and I got a kick out of the fact that there's a protracted scene where the family sees Some Like It Hot in the theater, throwing in a nice tip of the hat that shows Sandler is blatantly trying to remind the audience that Jill is just him in a wig.

I think its telling that the film ends with Pacino, having watched his commercial and finally realizing how cloying and agonizingly silly he's become for trusting Jack. He turns to him and simply says, "Burn it." I've heard a number of critics quoting the sentiment; I think whenever he sees that, Sandler is laughing with sardonic glee.

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Posted by Danny

Comments (6) Trackbacks (0)
  1. A really interesting take on the film, but frankly I think this is just Adam Sandler running around in a dress. Am I cynical about this? Probably, but I really don’t think Sandler and director Dennis Dugan meant anything more than pure dumb spectacle (unless their respective neuroses entered the script without them realizing it, in which case your theory is 100% correct).

    • I know where you’re coming from, and I’ve seen a lot of reactions along those same lines. I think coming from someone like Sandler has led to a lot of people underestimating or outright refusing to give it a closer look and try to understand what the movie is doing and why it’s doing it. There are far simpler scenarios that could be done with just Sandler in a dress that make the layers present here all the more interesting to read into.

  2. I also see Sandler fighting against himself and knocking himself out (those were the really funny moments) until he decides to come back to brainless happiness over Jill. Liked your thoughts.

  3. That was an awesome film I’ve ever seen. Really impressed and impressed from all side. Would like to appreciate this as well. Thanks mate.

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