by: Patrick Gill and Nico Lang
It was supposed to be terrible fun. I love bad movies, I love it when a film trying in earnest misses it’s intended mark and finds a way to be something beautiful in a new way— campy and hilarious. And I will say it, I enjoy many Adam Sandler movies. Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, those are my adolescent jams. His time on SNL, hilarious.
I have rooted for his serious work, no matter how tedious Spanglish was at times, and I have forgiven his recent attempts at comedy, no matter how unnecessary another The Longest Yard was. I even turned a blind eye while he played what was supposed to a likeable curmudgeon—but what was really just an ass—with a beautiful, charming and undeserving of scorn wife in Click and the rampant homophobia disguised as good crass humor in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. I did that because of how Sandler helped me find my early forms of goofy humor, and I thought of any person who deserved to have a new career direction it would be Sandler.
Armed with a love of camp and a near unyielding respect for Adam Sandler, yes Adam Sandler, I embarked on the viewing of Jack and Jill. After some gin and a week after my first attempt at viewing I have lost it. I don’t think I can love you any more Adam; I think you just killed my hope.
Jack and Jill as an experience is akin to having your favorite uncle berate you at your 7th birthday right before he kicks the puppy he was going to give you into traffic. The most reasonable explanation for this is that Sandler’s delivery while playing Jack is either screaming or a disdained grumble. This is even the shmuckish tone he takes with his out-of-his-league loving wife, yet again because this is a discomforting trend in casting. I have to take a moment to say something I never knew I would too, I commend Katie Holmes for her acting. She played it cool, empathetic, and reasonably well in the midst of the absurdly horrific event occurring around her.
There are so many things to cringe at in Jack and Jill: The “It’s okay because the Mexican gardener is making the racist joke.” (In this context, a joke is saying a stereotype, then adding, “Just keeedddiiiinnnggg,” in the voice of a drunk cartoon cockroach.) The off-putting pacing which crammed an awkward dinner and montage that would be nicely placed after some development within the first fifteen minutes, leaving the rest of the film to wander and stab like a blindfolded toddler with a mean streak; the seduction methods of Al Pacino which involve hot dogs, cake, stickball and breaking down doors screaming; that Jack attempts prostituting his sister to get Pacino into a commercial, the standard transphobic jokes that come with dude in dress comedies, that instead of actually having children be characters they had the little boy tape things to himself (read: quirky) and the little girl like dressing up like her doll (read: I don’t even know). It goes on. There was one thing that almost brought me to tears: the treatment of Jill.
And this was the crux of the movie, the main joke, look at Adam Sandler in a dress as his twin sister—isn’t she a mess, doesn’t she need someone to fix everything, shouldn’t she just leave her brother alone. She’s a nag, she can’t behave in public, she’s mildly racist, she perspires profusely. In truth she is slightly terrible, yet the ridicule of her just seems unwarrantedly high. Yet everyone but Holmes and the children—and Pacino, who fetishizes her Bronx background—finds her repulsive. I don’t want to talk about the scene where she is left on a date. She’s not a mean person. She took care of her mother until the end of her life, she hasn’t seen her (presumably) only other family member in a long time. She seems like a bit of a burden, but really, one you learn to live with and find ways to enjoy; she’s family, not Frankenstein’s monster.
My skin ranges from tortoise shell thick to tortilla thin depending on the day. I have a loud voice and personality. I identified with Jill at strange points, not really the racist points, but were both people who care a lot about what people think of us and just want things to be good for everyone. I think another reason is that I just wanted Adam Sandler to cheer up and be friends with me again, teach me something new about comedy. I didn’t expect much, just a terrible good time, but half way through the film I just wanted a friend back, by the end I didn’t.
I have never been friends with Adam Sandler, ever. We aren’t passing acquaintances or even frenemies; I outright hate Adam Sandler, and if I passed him in the hall, I would not even acknowledge his presence or give him that cool guy head nod that people do when they are too good or too busy to actually say hello to you.
It all began in 7th Grade, when he released Little Nicky, a movie that has him soiling all over the already much-soiled on legacy of Jerry Lewis—with 90 minutes of weird character acting, Satan jokes and Reese Witherspoon playing an angel. I never really liked Adam Sandler much—except for The Wedding Singer, which has the redeeming quality of a lovely, big-hearted performance from Drew Barrymore—but I hated this one for a very special reason. When I was growing up, the pet name my grandparents gave me was Nicky, and it just kind of stuck.
My dad’s name was Nick, and as a born momma’s boy, I resented him as soon as I started speaking. Thus, I didn’t want to share DNA with him, a balding pattern with him and, most especially, a name with him.
In Middle School, having two names that rhyme with terms for a phallus (children are not that inventive) are rough enough, but sharing a first name with a character in an Adam Sandler movie made things so much worse. Being called “Little Nicky” five to ten times every day was like wearing a giant sign on my back that said: “Kick my ass, please. Oh, wait, you already were kicking my ass? Then kick it HARDER.”
Because of how bad things got, I had to transfer schools and live with my mom and her kind-of-racist husband in a trailer that he wall-to-wall carpeted himself. (With staples.) I don’t totally blame Adam Sandler for that, but it certainly doesn’t make me like him more.
Over the years, I had kind of forgotten how much I hate the traditional Adam Sandler vehicle. My feelings toward Sandler have warmed considerably, especially after Punch-Drunk Love, the brilliant and criminally overlooked P.T. Anderson film in which Sandler dissects his own movies. Imagine a Sandler film played for drama and pathos. It’s kind of brilliant.
And during that time, Sandler always seemed so willing to do that, to make fun of himself and what he does for a living (see also: Funny People) that I tried to overlook how terrible his movies make me feel sometimes.
However, I have now seen Jack and Jill, twice, and everything is ruined. Even though I thought I could forgive, I cannot forgive. We have reached the point where that is no longer an option. This is a dark precipice.
When Little Nicky came out, I was only superficially hurt by it; I knew that I was nothing like that character, which was made out of spare parts from The Waterboy filtered through Robert Smith. When people did impressions of me in the Little Nicky voice, I wasn’t hurt because it was like me. I was hurt because it wasn’t. That’s not who I am.
But something about Jack and Jill felt was weirdly personal to me; it felt directed at me, as if Adam Sandler were putting me on trial for all of my quirks and eccentricities.
In the film, Jill is the twin sister to Sandler’s Jack, and he seems to forcefully resent her for all the ways in which they are alike. The difference between the two of them is that Jack has a filter, and Jill does not, so Jack has to be reminded of the parts of himself he hates all of the time. (Because he is not one for subtlety, both characters are played by Adam Sandler.)
The fact that these things are all embodied by a Jewish woman makes it screwed up and misogynist enough, but what made it worse was the fact that her character was the only person in the film I could identify with. (My other options were a calcified Katie Holmes and a practically roid-raging Adam Sandler, so it’s not like I had much else.) Even though Sandler’s drag performance has the grace of a sledgehammer, I found something weirdly charming about Jill’s ever-thwarted desire to be loved by her brother—and, in receiving that love, to keep the memory of their parents’ alive.
Sure, the character of Jill is blunt, awkward and (maybe) sometimes a little racist(-ish), but just like Patrick did, I found her “terribleness” weirdly relatable. Like Jill, I’m something of a loud talker, and I’m a bit blind when it comes to some aspects of social grace and interaction. I never know what you should and should not say to people, and once, I told two people on the train who were going home to watch Requiem for a Dream that they shouldn’t plan on “boinking” that night. My friends all slapped their heads at my impertinence, but I thought it was necessary information before watching the most depressing movie ever. (I was just helping!)
However, Jill’s relationship with her brother most especially reminded me of mine with my mother. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Kim, my mother is the kind of person you could never possibly forget. She has a personality big enough to fill outer space and loves to talk on the phone endlessly with me about her bowel movements, health problems and sex life—all of the things that children are never supposed to talk about with their parents. Like Whoopi Goldberg, my mom will say anything—especially if it’s to my friends, to my teachers or to random people on the street; she will always do so with a smile, like it’s no big deal.
Because of that, Kim has something of a reputation among my friends, and those who know her trade stories about her craziness. (Some of them are more fun than others to hear repeated.) I used to be somewhat embarrassed by this, and when she tried to take me to my Yale interview in Daisy Dukes, I actually made her go back inside and put on one of my grandmother’s dresses. (If I was going to screw up that interview, I planned on doing it all by myself, thank you very much.) But over time, I’ve come to accept my mother’s lack of sanity and embrace it as part of who she is, realizing that it just stems from her insecurity and need for affection. She just wants to be loved by other people, including almost everyone we ever come into contact with, and that makes her do crazy things. Who doesn’t do crazy things in order to be loved?
Also, I’ve learned to see myself in her over time, because we are so alike in many ways. Sometimes, it’s like we are alternate universe versions of each other, like on a J.J. Abrams show. Truman Capote once said of Perry Smith, the killer he profiled for In Cold Blood, that it was like the two of them grew up in the same house: Truman just went out the front and Perry out the back. Looking back on my mother, who stayed in Ohio’s two-horse towns so I didn’t have to, that’s how I feel. And unlike Jack, all I can feel is grateful for that, even if hearing Kim talk about that time she (maybe) got Bird Flu makes me want to put my ears out.
This is the thesis that Jack and Jill seems to come to at the end, but it’s so cynically rendered that it seems to make fun of the audience for wanting such a reconciliation between the two characters. When Jack finally owns up to the fact that he treats his sister like dirt, he does so in the “made up twin language” they had as children. On top of the fact that I could see that plot device coming a mile away, I knew that the real reason they did that was so they didn’t have to write the dialogue for it. It’s much easier to just make fun of someone than redeem them. It’s like that obligatory part at the end of every roast where the roaster has to tell the roastee how much, after every terrible thing they just said, they love and respect them. You don’t think anything about it until you hear people obligatorily praising Charlie Sheen. Then you see what a ruse it all is.
I have few rules in my life, but one of them is that you don’t fuck with my friends and family. You can make fun of me (and I’ll just passively hate you forever because I’m part German and that’s how we work); however, the second my loved ones come into the picture, I turn into Liam Neeson from Taken. I will tear down the Eiffel Tower to protect them, so help me God.
Most people, after they watch Jack and Jill, after they see what a train wreck this is, talk about how they survived it and how all they want to do is move on. However, I’m not as forgiving as Patrick is; my other side is Italian, and I don’t have that switch to just turn on. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger in every movie, I have survived Jack and Jill, and I want revenge. I just want my life back.
Patrick Gill is the Co-Creator of In Our Words, as well as the Co-Founder and Host of the queer reading series All The Writers I Know. He is a poet, essayist, short story writer and occasional performer. Patrick writes the column “B*tch, I’m Miley Cyrus” for HEAVEMedia, is an alumnus of DePaul, has developed LGBTQ-centered anti-bullying curricula for CPS schools and is currently working on LGBTQ friendly children’s books. Patrick is doing so in order to be cute and endearing once again. He is a semi-professional word-hustler and a burrito hunter. His mother thinks everything he is doing is a fun thing to do.
Nico Lang is the Co-Creator and Co-Editor of In Our Words and a graduate student in DePaul University’s Media & Cinema Studies program. Lang is a Change Coordinator for LGBT Change, the Co-Founder of Chicago’s Queer Intercollegiate Alliance and a columnist for HEAVEMedia. At HEAVE, Nico writes a column on film called Found Footage and talks about nerd stuff on a weekly podcast called Pod People. Elsewhere in podcasting, Lang hosts Broad Shoulders, a monthly podcast for Chicago’s Live Lit community. Nico is also a contributor at Thought Catalog and the Huffington Post and has been featured in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, the New Gay and on their mother’s refrigerator. Follow Nico on Twitter @Nico_Lang or on the Facebook.