REVIEW: Al Pacino Devours Otherwise Humorless Jack and Jill
Despite all of the grumpy and/or gleeful speculation that arose around the internet when it got its first glimpse of Adam Sandler donning a wig and falsies to play his own awkward twin sister, Jack and Jill is not actually the worst movie of all time. Given other recent efforts from Sandler's Happy Madison production company, most notably Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star, it'd be hard pressed to even compete for the title of worst of the year. The film, directed by longtime Sandler collaborator Dennis Dugan and written by Steve Koren, presents an at least theoretically standard mix of slapstick, celebrity cameos and not-quite-winking sentimentality. It's sometimes funny, but more often it's just very strange and threaded through with hostility -- at one point, during a montage that involved Jill repeatedly accidentally injuring a myopic Mexican grandmother at a picnic, the colleagues on either side of me leaned in separately to whisper, "What is happening?"
It's as if, after years of playing characters with temper issues, Sandler has finally let some of that repressed rage leak out toward the audience. And it's not just the can't-believe-they-actually-made-it concept of Jack and Jill that gives that impression. This is a film in which the product placement is so blatant (hello, Royal Caribbean Cruises!) it's like a meta-joke with no punchline, in which a climactic moment of familial resolution is delivered entirely in nonsensical "twin talk" that goes on and on in a way that doesn't strive for either humor or sincere emotionality.
Maybe it's fitting that a film whose star often seems moments away from turning to the camera and yelling "ARE YOU LAUGHING NOW?" revolves around themes of reconciling with one's background and going through a crisis of artistic integrity. The former dilemma belongs mostly to Sandler's Jack Sadelstein, an ad exec whose idyllic Los Angeles life -- beautiful house, adorable daughter and even more adorable adopted son (Rohan Chand, a scene-stealer), a wife (Katie Holmes) who converted to Judaism for him and a successful career. The only blip is his twin sister Jill, a manly (natch) spinster from the Bronx who comes once a year for the holidays and disturbs Jack's SoCal zen with her crassness, neediness and overall ickiness. All Jill wants is to spend time with her remaining family, now that their mom's passed away, but she's incredibly irritating, both demanding of Jack's attention and hurt when she isn't given the fair share she seems to feel is due her back.
As Jack, Sandler plays straight man to himself, seething quietly and delivering muttered insults as his drag double demands to be taken on game shows, unintentionally insults everyone at Thanksgiving and then runs off into the woods, tries to online date and continually extends her stay, first through Hanukkah and then New Year's. As over-the-top as this hell-is-yourself-as-other-people storyline is, it's overshadowed by the converging narrative of an established star going through a mental break and looking for salvation in the woman of his dreams -- Al Pacino, playing an outlandish version of himself in the midst of a mental breakdown. Jack has to been asked to get Pacino for a Dunkin' Donuts commercial, a seemingly impossible task that becomes a little less so when the actor falls for Jill, seeing in her a reflection of his New York youth and his former, happier self.
It's a dedicated performance that goes far beyond being simply preening masquerading as self-mockery -- Pacino shows more focus and less hamminess than he has on screen in ages -- and if it's one that the movie can't really support, well, it's hard to imagine the movie that could convincingly contort itself around Pacino rapping about Dunkaccinos, wooing someone with a cheesecake shaped like his face and getting into a fight with a ceiling fan. A YouTube video of the man breaking character in a stage production of Richard III in order to castigate an audience member who didn't silence his or her cell phone (shades of Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman?) is genuinely inspired, while other moments are more familiar I'm Still Here territory.
Pacino ends up devouring the movie, but in a way that's welcome, since there's not really enough to Jack and Jill's rapprochement to fill a feature. We're meant to accept that Jill's lonely and always felt overshadowed by her more popular brother, but that doesn't make moments in which she sulks off because she wasn't given her own birthday cake at the siblings' joint surprise celebration at all sympathetic. Beyond how difficult it is to make the mental leap to seeing Jill as a separate character and not just Sandler in unconvincing drag, it's even tougher to buy into the film's halfhearted messaging about the importance of family and roots when that connection is presented via someone who's the equivalent of a tumor that for health reasons should be removed as soon as possible.
Filling out the rest of Jack and Jill are Eugenio Derbez as the Sadelstein's gardener and a possible Pacino romantic rival for Jill's affections, Nick Swardson as Jack's socially inept assistant, Norm MacDonald as Jill's Internet date (username "Funbucket") and an giant parade of celebs playing themselves. ("Celeb" being used loosely there -- the cameos range from Johnny Depp and Shaquille O'Neal to Bruce Jenner and Vince Offer, the Sham-Wow guy.) Bracketing the feature are interviews with real sets of twins (and one group of triplets) who talk about the pluses and minus of being part of a set, a glimpse of the fiction Jack and Jill thrown in with them. It's a device that recalls When Harry Met Sally, a film this one suffers when placed up again in so many ways you wish it hadn't ever made the connection.
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