Review: ‘Jack and Jill’

“In ten years, the only memories anyone will have of Jack and Jill will have to be recovered under heavy, heavy hypnosis.”

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

It is sometimes important when reviewing movies to take the long view. How is this film going to be remembered ten years into the future? As an amusing diversion? An enduring classic? A product hopelessly mired in its time? This is an important question to ask. In ten years, the only memories anyone will have of Jack and Jill will have to be recovered under heavy, heavy hypnosis.

I’m reasonably confident that Adam Sandler movies were funny in the past. I have fond memories of Happy Gilmore and The Water Boy. His brand of vaguely sadistic absurdity seemed to be tempered with sympathy for his characters’ plight. They were filled with standard broad comedy clichés, but took pleasure in playing them to Sandler’s specific strengths as an entertainer. With Jack and Jill anything resembling “the old magic” is gone, replaced by a kind of cruel alchemy designed to bring forth the most fearsome ghoul in cinematic history. Her name is “Jill.”

Sandler is not the first male comedian to attempt to eke comedy from dressing as a woman. He’s not even the first to play it as a woman, as opposed to some guy who’s just forced to wear a dress. He certainly isn’t the first to do it badly. But “Jill,” whose quotation marks I cannot bring myself to remove, is a monster. In the classic tradition, too. Her every aspect strikes fear in the heart, from her wide-eyed stare as she sidles up next to you while you’re sleeping, to her shrill harpy’s cry that Sandler tries to pass off as a human voice. And like all great monsters, she is to be pitied. Jack and Jill portrays this ogre as a creature in desperate need of love and claims, in the end, that she is lovable for it. Of course she is not. If she were, the film would not spend 90% of its running time treating her as a subject of constant derision, not just on the part of her aggrieved twin brother, but on the part of the filmmakers as whole, who cruelly mock her for over an hour before pretending to have learned a valuable lesson in empathy.

The plot, such as it is, finds “Jack” (Sandler) forced to spend the holidays with his twin sister “Jill.” She is, as we’ve stated before, just awful: rude, racist, completely lacking in social graces and emotionally needy to the point of borderline madness. Jack wants her to leave (so do we), but is forced to keep her around because he needs Al Pacino (actually played by Al Pacino) to be in a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial. Jack makes commercials, you see, and Dunkin’ Donuts really wants Al Pacino to their spokesman. Al Pacino, we learn, has gone genuinely crazy, and thinks that only “Jill” can bring him back to sanity. In his defense, I admit that if you multiply a negative by a negative you are, technically, supposed to get a positive.

I feel bad for Al Pacino. His career has hit a slump in recent years, with films like 88 Minutes and Righteous Kill doing nothing for his vaunted reputation by wasting his obvious skill. I imagine he, or at least his agent, felt that appearing in a goofball comedy aimed at mainstream audiences would be good for his image, proving that he had a sense of humor and perhaps gearing him towards an autumnal vocational shift towards lighter entertainment, which worked wonders for Robert De Niro (briefly, at any rate). Pacino is about as good as he can be with this material – there’s a particularly funny bit when “Jill” smashes his Oscar – but obviously Jack and Jill was a miscalculation. Late in the movie he finally makes the Dunkin’ Donuts commercial, but insists that all copies of the monstrosity be burned. I suspect he had a similar conversation with Sandler after the initial screenings of this film, too.

I appreciate that something like Jack and Jill is catering to a low common denominator. Its ultimate goal is to make you laugh, and by criticizing it I may come across as a humorless bore. But if you really want nothing more than a string of unsympathetic fart jokes (of which this film has many) you could easily scour YouTube for a couple of minutes and call it a day. Jack and Jill doesn’t work as a film. The plot is mean-spirited and barely strung together by any connective tissue, operating instead as a series of bullet points that occasionally punctuate a series of perverse and often offensive gags, including an octogenarian Mexican woman who is repeatedly knocked unconscious with heavy objects and revived by waving hot chili peppers in front of her nose. And then of course there is “Jill,” who comes across as an only slightly more cogent (yet infinitely more shrill) version of Lennie in Of Mice and Men, but whose character is never offered the dignity of a merciful end. Pity.