We have seen the Adam Sandler character pass through phases like a boy growing up. We played with young Billy Madison, watched him romp as a teen in Happy Gilmore, skipped maturity with him (stopping only for a pre-teen dalliance with slam poetry in Punch-Drunk Love), and went immediately into a middle-age slump. Sandler now carries a kind of discreet and plausible sadness with him like a shadow, like a man whose work pays his bills but gives him no joy. We think of people this despondent as being pencil-pushers or janitors; we imagine actors glamorized in their tinsel townhomes, either enjoying their work or acting like they do to save face. But not Sandler. He could not hate his work so much that we would stop buying tickets. I imagine him in a half-tucked wrinkled button-down shirt, unshaven, dragging his feet onto the set as he finishes his fourth coffee and gets to work. It really seems like work for him. I now pity him in exact proportion to the affection for the little angry boy that some people used to find so affecting and full of potential.
What potential? Within Sandler there has always been a little everyman craving for an in-crowd. The world beats against him in his movies, often to a breaking point, at which we often realize that we relate to him: his is the poetic struggle of a nobody. The Sandler character was communicable. No matter how silly or crass, or even how perfectly unlikable, even when you hate the movie (and you most certainly will), you can’t help but root for him. When he smashes that clown’s nose in Happy Gilmore or breaks sliding doors with a hammer in Punch-Drunk Love, you are with him. That is his allure.
The Sandler character was not ruined by any of the worlds that tried to beat him down, but by the real one giving him everything. When he could hire his own in-crowd from a whole lineage of SNL alumni and star in a film without acting in it, and grant himself a handsome writer’s salary besides, when we loved him enough to give him everything, we lost him. Or at least, we lost what we could have had of him. That was when he became Jack and Jill.
This 2011 double-Sandler performance accentuates his impenetrable laziness, even more so that he performs twice and acts half as much. Those familiar with how much work his work has become for him, should know the drill: the crotch-shots, the desperate laughter, the screaming, the falling down, the farting, the falling down and farting, the marginalization humor (in many ways, Sandler never grew up). Jack and Jill has one unique feature in its arsenal of petty humor crimes, and that’s Jill, impersonated by Sandler in drag (barely), blathering a gastrointestinal laugh track to a film otherwise full of dullards. Sandler puts less effort into swapping genders than if he had tripped over Rue Paul’s travel case and just went with it, but his performance – lisping, trouncing abrasively around in heels and a sloppy wig – is decidedly Sandler-like, like Billy Madison in blush.
Compared to Jack, which is Sandler in his new unkempt default, Jill is actually more likeable. Opposite to the movie’s setup, which features the weary advertising executive saddled with his brutish sister for the holidays, you feel sorry for her, being saddled as Sandler’s twin. The same actor generates more emotion by distancing himself from himself. What’s more, the surrounding world coddles Jill lovingly: Jack’s wife (Katie Holmes) and children, adore her baffling ignorance and natural lack of grace. She’s like the family’s big pet albatross, squawking, crashing, and pooping all over the place. But when asked, everyone says she’s pretty and agreeable. They don’t persecute her lack of prudence or hold her to the standards of a neat and realistic movie. The world goes along with Jill and that makes this film easier to watch than it could have been.
But in a disastrous failure of intentions, it is not better (or funnier) than if Jill had been played by a real actress instead of by Sandler. There are absolutely no shenanigans dealing with the double identity or their similar appearance, nothing that would require timing or coordination – they are barely ever in the same shot. Even when Jack dresses as Jill to go on a date for her, they remain completely separate and Jack is never discovered in his deception: it makes no difference that Jack was in drag, since Sandler already was.
The film will pass through your brain, not because it isn’t offensive, but because its offenses are old hat. Its full of ads with no sales tactics and jokes with no humor: even in its most cynical form it has no grace, not even the consciousness required to effectively self-loathe. It is shocking only as a nothing picture.
Observe this perfect atrocity of nonchalance. Sandler, writing the script as well (probably at his mansion, shirt fully untucked, bourbon in place of coffee), will misplace his entire film in the construction of a random joke. For instance, Sandler dresses as Jill in order to please Al Pacino, who is insatiable to “play twister with his sister.” Let’s just leave our reactions to Pacino being in this film as Pacino on the shelf for a second (don’t worry: he has a regular room there now). So Sandler in hasty drag, of course looking identical to Jill, is temporarily in a Tootsie situation where man problems – underarm hair, deep voice, lack of breasts – might threaten to undermine him any second (he gets drunk and descends into manliness, but Sandler’s approximation of it is still discernibly feminine, as Pacino points out). But then he writes a joke for the next scene in which Jill frightens and impresses a bunch of body-builders by lifting incredible amounts of weight. He forgets that this is not actually Tootsie, where he would be a man dressed as a woman when he’s playing Jill: Jill is a woman in this universe. There is absolutely no precedent for Jill having the characteristics of a man in this story, or for that to be funny, but he wrote a “man in drag” joke. So what that she can lift weights? The joke is just that she's strong? Good for her? The joke isn’t just bad: it narratively does not exist. The movie's premise cancels it out.
So aside from writing these comedic conundrums, Sandler passes time (and I mean it: with credits, this thing is 90 minutes almost on the dot) by perverting himself with grade-school stupidity. “Chocolate squirties” is a phrase that comes up, following a strange reverse debasement of Mexicans (reverse because every bad “border” or “beans” joke is followed by “just kidding,” as though Sandler doesn’t even want to take responsibility for the jokes he almost couldn’t bring himself to write). I’d say this shows how little he respects us but that is something that I never, ever suspected of him. He writes with no concept of setup and payoff. There is no comedian left in him.
There is still within him, however, a salesman. There is more bankable ad revenue in Jack and Jill than movie, and I barely mean this as an exaggeration. An actual majority of the film’s story centers on segments that are literal ads for products. Minor ones include a lingering Sony Vaio logo and Coke stickers that trail across the screen like a banner. In the opening scene, Sandler is drinking Pepto Bismol and I think I caught him turn the bottle to make sure the sticker was facing the camera. Later, an entire scene dissolves the film into a literal ad for a cruise line (which one? I won’t mention it, at least hoping to break the cycle). Even the cinematography changes to crisp aerial shots, mid-shots of smiling maître d’s, a tour of all the beautiful people having a grand vacation time in what was previously a movie, even if only barely. Jill narrates all the wonderful things they can do on their wonderful family vacation, in those terms.
Of course, I have to mention the “Dunkacino” Dunkin’ Donuts commercial that concludes the film, and the line, “Say hello to my chocolate blend.” I think we should remember this injustice, next time we see “Sony” on the ticket stub. I haven’t seen anything like this since Mac and Me and the haunting little pantomime of a McDonald’s ad. I don’t know if Sandler’s appeal has a limit, but he seems determined to find out.
But perhaps he still understands irony? Sandler gives Pacino the line from Don Quixote, said to Jill: “Your purity befits a knight more worthy than I.” Perhaps he finds some joy in writing one of the great actors this statement of devotion to himself in drag, in the movie driven by Sandler’s bank and not Pacino’s. I’m certain it’s the only joy he felt, if he felt it. Absurdly, this is not Pacino’s least enthusiastic role: is it worse or better that he hurls all five feet of himself at the screen like it really is Don Quixote? Meanwhile, Sandler is leaning against the walls he’s built in his mind, counting up the dough he made for a film that cost someone $79 million and yet looks sterile enough to be a joke trailer for a film pitch on SNL (for a little perspective, Punch-Drunk Love cost about a third of that).
I can’t help thinking that Sandler, after all these years, still has the power to represent us to ourselves. But now instead of a boy fighting against a nonchalant world, he’s a man broken into creative destitution by nonchalance, which we have to admit is at least partly our own. His garbage was made to order to our tastes. And now we must collect it. Jack and Jill made money, like all his films do (except Punch-Drunk Love), and we let them. I really do wonder if that is Sandler’s deep sorrow: of an artist who discovered that people want less of him even than he wants of himself. The farting and the screaming really may be for us. I can’t think of an alternative: I can see in his eyes that he takes no pleasure from any of it at all.
Image is a screenshot from the film.