Jack and Jill (2011)

Pretty Ugly

I want to like Adam Sandler, I really do. All he wants is to make us laugh and that’s a noble ambition. Underneath his struggle with angry neurosis and unrestrained rage that he tends to purport as the burden of the ‘everyman’, Sandler is really a pussy cat. Every Happy Madison production forcefully illustrates this myth. Sandler is good guy at heart and if he becomes violently enraged at someone it’s usually because they deserve it and if they don’t he really doesn’t mean to be like that anyway. The truth is that, like a naughty school kid, Sandler only behaves himself when separated from Dennis Dugan and his Happy Madison pictures.

P.T. Anderson was able to recognise this, and the result of this was a film that is one of my all-time favourites. Anderson let Sandler reveal the truth behind that angry façade; a truth that I always suspected and was happy to finally see. Sandler was never more compelling than when Anderson encouraged his honesty. I wished and I hoped that Punch Drunk Love would be a turning point for Sandler. I thought that it might have been an experience that changed the way he thought about life, the universe, and his on-screen persona. I hoped for a whole new Sandler, sans all that bullshit machismo.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since 2002 and sadly, most of it has had the same old flavour. The brownie points Sandler earned by participating in Anderson’s art house rom-com have long been spent. Yes, I want to like Adam Sandler, but I can’t. I just can’t. It’s not the clunky insertions of “cute” jokes that I detest. I can recognize a certain charm in those. It’s not even the predictable plotlines about improbable romances. I dig where he’s coming from with all that male fantasy stuff. In what other world would a middle-aged juvenile with anger issues hook up with a supermodel? It’s not the crass humour. Crass humour has its place. It’s not even that every single Happy Madison film is Sandler-centric to the detriment of all it’s other aspects, indeed to the eschewing of good cinema. It’s none of those things.

So what is it? Why, despite trying so hard to do so, can’t I bring myself to like Sandler? Well, it has something to do with the pride I have in my own individuality, in my right to not conform to commonly accepted moulds. It’s all tied up with my empathy for the underdog, the weirdo, the freak, anyone considered to be strange or belonging in the minority, any minority. You see, these people do not fare very well in Sandler’s films.

For that reason more than any other he really, really irks me.

His films are consistently contemptuous of minority groups. He hates the poorer classes, the aged, non-whites, and especially women. Anyone who isn’t a generic, white, English-speaking American ‘everyman’ (as he supposedly is) ends up getting flamed mercilessly. It’s a shame Sandler spoils the potential fun of his films by patronizing anyone who is mildly interesting or unique. In Sandler films, the camera will routinely make special trips away from the action to poke fun at some hapless underdog, to eavesdrop on some ‘loser’, or to have some ‘freak’ make an idiotic comment (because in Sandler’s world, being different automatically means you must be stupid). It’s an ugly practice and I don’t like it one bit.

So now the review.

In Jack and Jill, Sandler takes his special brand of discrimination to a new level, revealing an infantile misogyny. An elderly Mexican woman is reduced to a chilli-munching ogre, which is offensive on numerous levels and becomes more so when the film shows her ‘accidentally’ getting whacked violently in the face with a piñata stick. I can take a joke as well as the next guy, but there is something a bit…off about the frequent violence directed at women in this, and other Sandler films. The height of this misogyny is reached in his portrayal of Jill as an incessantly whining, needy, annoying woman. More telling is the way the film ridicules Jill’s more masculine qualities such as her excessive sweating, proficiency in sports, and brute strength. Though these jokes are meant to be self referential (Jill’s masculinity being due to the fact that she is played by Sandler – ha, ha, ha), what they reveal is the films limited and sexist viewpoint and a lazy perpetuation of gender stereotypes. All of which would be forgivable if the film was affable or funny. It’s neither. Sandler’s characterization of Jill is both insulting and a chore to watch. He makes no effort to make Jill even remotely likable, instead leaving it to the film’s one true heavyweight, Al Pacino (playing himself for god-knows-what-reason) to convince us through a contrived, schmaltzy speech that Jill is actually a lost soul with a big heart. Sadly, by this point in the film Pacino’s words come across as big fat lies, and a lazy verbal substitute for actually imbuing Jill with these qualities.

If you like the Adam Sandler that hasn’t evolved one bit since 1996’s Happy Gilmore (a film I quite liked, by the way), add a couple of stars (yes, I gave it none), if not hunt down a copy of Tootsie or even Punch Drunk Love. Both of these films are funny, and importantly they’re also humane.