Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Some Thoughts On 'Jack and Jill'

1. Let's dispense with the obvious: Jack and Jill is a vehicle for Adam Sandler, who plays both titular roles. The concept that Sandler is playing his own twin sister is, of course, the hook here to draw audiences, as well it should be: Sandler is one of our most under-appreciated performers, comedic or otherwise, and it's been obvious since his debut as the lead in Billy Madison, where he actually made you feel his transformation from lazy, spoiled hotel-empire heir into energetic scholar who finally realizes the importance of actually believing in something. But Jack and Jill is about much more than a talented thespian at the height of his powers. It's a meditation on identity.

2. The film opens with LA ad executive Jack Sadelstein dreading the arrival of his twin sister Jill for her annual Thanksgiving visit. While the pair were once quite close, Jack now finds Jill difficult to take. Once Jill shows up, hijinks, as is their wont, ensue. There is a series of crude if effective gags, and the humor is on the level that one generally expects from a Sandler film. But this time the comedy is more subversive. One gets the sense that Sandler and director Dennis Dugan are using farce to mask the more serious points they want to get across about who we are and how we define ourselves in a stark and uncaring world.

3. The fact that Jack and Jill are twins speaks directly to the dualities inherent in all of us. Sandler and Dugan want us to consider who we are on the most basic existential level, what we show and what we hide as we make our way through life. The very traits that Jack finds so irksome in Jill are, of course, extensions of his own nature, jagged reminders of what he's repressed as he has chased success in his chosen field and attempted to create the perfect family life. (In an interesting bit of casting, Katie Holmes, whose own domestic relationship has been the subject of much analysis concerning public face v. private motivation, plays his wife.)

4. Even more transgressively, Jack and Jill are twins of different genders. What Sandler and Dugan are doing here is, to my mind, the most audacious attempt to encourage discussion about the fluidity of sexual classification in a major studio comedy since 2000's challenging—if worryingly heteronormative—What Women Want. In an era where the dominance of the patriarchy is widely assumed to be in its twilight, Jill, and her contentious relationship with Jack, represents the anxieties many men are feeling when they think about the future. The fact that much is made of Jill's unattractiveness is a knowing nod of the part of the producers to the barely concealed disgust with which men are confronting their increasing lack of relevance.

5. To make matters even more complex, Sandler and Dugan have convinced Al Pacino to portray Al Pacino, or at least a cinematic version of Al Pacino. The sheer genius of this exploration of mimesis in a film that is already concerned with the concept of individuality may be the movie's most triumphant stroke: To have an actor who is so frequently accused of playing himself actually playing himself as an addled version of Al Pacino—one who falls for the feminine side of the lead character's struggle in duality—could easily have been a step too far, but the depth of thought that Sandler's creative team has put into the whole project makes the whole thing work on an entirely new plane of personal exploration.

6. Also there is a cameo by Johnny Depp. You should totally see this movie.

Jack and Jill, directed by Dennis Dugan, opens tomorrow. The running time is 90 minutes.

31 Comments / Post A Comment

pbump (#8,320)

On behalf of America, thank you for a thoughtful, even-handed look at a certainly important piece of cinema.

If only Salo had been in 3D

Matt (#26)

This is a really high-level Renata Adler take down, way to go.

The three geniuses of cinema are Kurosawa, Sandler and ah..oops.

tomme (#4,473)

@NotAndersonCooper no, not the EPA.

Smitros (#5,315)

I now feel far less guilty about wondering who the homely chick was.

deepomega (#1,720)

Spoiler alert: it ends with an achingly sincere Dunkin' Donuts commercial. It's a musical. There's dancing. Al Pacino features heavily.

Alex Balk (#4)

@deepomega What was fascinating to me was how subtle they were with the product integration there. I mean, Dunkin Donuts' slogan about "American runs on Dunkin" is really similar to the questions with which the movie concerns itself, particularly, "What do we really run on, as Americans? What keeps us going?"

deepomega (#1,720)

@Alex Balk I assume the same thing that keeps the second and third acts of the movie going: The fact that Al Pacino's name rhymes with a coffee beverage Sandler's Jack is trying to develop an ad campaign for.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Alex Balk: Alternatively: Americans, just like Adam Sandler and The Internet, mostly run on a combination of unceasing desire for money, self-loathing, and fart jokes.

SeanP (#4,058)

@deepomega I know you can't be correct because it is an absolute fact that the Internet runs on cute kittens.

HiredGoons (#603)

"hijinks, as is their wont, ensue." Like someone with a victim-complex in an abusive relationship, shit like this is why I keep coming back to Alex Balk for more.

jolie (#16)

@HiredGoons That was the line that got me too. It's been a particularly great Alex Balk week here on The Awl, hasn't it?

Man, now I need a drink.

SeanP (#4,058)

@jolie Balk Week. Like Shark Week, only with bourbon.

hockeymom (#143)

He said "heteronormative" heh, heh,

Blahblaaah (#11,696)

This film doesn't offend me as a women. It offends me as a member of the human race.

Al Pacino falls in love with Adam Sandler in drag???? Must-see criteria met.

@antarcticastartshere Does Johnny Depp come between them, or does he fall for Adam Sandler not in drag?

Bittersweet (#765)

@antarcticastartshere: If Johnny Depp comes between Al Pacino and Adam Sandler in drag, I'm already at the theater.

@Bittersweet I want it to be Johnny Depp and Adam Sandler in drag fighting over Al Pacino the most.

@antarcticastartshere OF COURSE THERE IS A CLIP.

Al Pacino is tiny!

sharilyn (#4,599)

@antarcticastartshere : OBVIOUSLY Johnny Depp falls for Al Pacino.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)


I'm sorry, this whole thing must be a joke, right?

I mean, not one mention of Rob Schneider? In a Sandler film?

KenWheaton (#401)

@Clarence Rosario YOU CAN DO IT!

Van Buren Boy (#1,233)

I like the part where the guy dresses up like a girl! It's so wacky!

@Van Buren Boy It’s a travesty. Just as Elvis, The Rolling Stones, The Average White Band and countless other white musicians cannibalized the rich traditions of African American music so now does Adam Sandler cannibalize the rich traditions of Flip Wilson, Martin Lawrence and Tyler Perry.

La Cieca (#1,110)

All the best Adam Sandler movies are named after types of bathrooms.

Uncle Grambo (#579)

Moar moovee revues pleeze.

Perhaps Not (#176,087)

Armond White? Is that you?

Rebecca K.@twitter (#19,579)

I just don't think this post has enough effusive comments. I just spent the last 10 minutes reading this and crying from laughing while trying to explain it to my husband.

Maybe it's my film studies degree but this one spoke to me in a deeply personal level.

<3 Alex Balk!

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