Reviewing the Reviews: Armond White Loves Jack & Jill

The sun will rise in the east. It will set in the west. And movie critics will blast any move that has Adam Sandler cross-dressing in it. These are well-established facts.

And so, it is with some delight that I present the world’s ONLY GLOWING REVIEW of Jack and Jill, courtesy of Armond White.

Adam Sandler’s comedies are not “dumb fun”; maybe that’s why they’re not in critics’ favor.

This evades the question of whether they’re not “dumb” or “fun.”

I’m going to pause here to provide a little biography on our esteemed critic, Armond White. First, he’s a smart guy who knows a lot about movies. Second, he once said that when he reviews a movie, “Liking it or disliking it is irrelevant.” His Wikipedia page’s first sentence includes the word “contrarian.” His hobbyhorse is railing against critics who just use their platform to, you know, tell people whether movies are good or bad, Jay Sherman-style rather than like, reviewing their artistic merits without actually I guess, saying whether or not it’s a good idea to spend $10 to go see them. Because seeing movies in a theater is for commoners.

Sandler’s hilarious new film Jack and Jill (in which he portrays both male and female fraternal twins), brings to mind the great line that Ernst Lubitsch’s classic 1946 female plumber comedy Cluny Brown…

This has to be a parody of something, right? After several attempts to spell “Ernst Lubitsch” in Wikipedia, I learned that the guy was nominated for Best Director three times, so he was probably pretty good at movie-making. But maybe not.

In Jack and Jill, Sandler looks at sibling rivalry without that acrid love of dysfunction now so popular on TV and Broadway.

I actually am on board with this general sentiment if not its specific application. Many forms of entertainment play up conflict between supposed loved ones to the point where you wonder if these people care for each other at all, or if they should. I’m not sure that a movie that seems to be mostly about Adam Sandler hating She-Sandler (and by all accounts being absolutely correct to do so) is the answer to the dysfunctional families of TV and Broadway.

The film’s comedy (as in adult petulance and coach potato behavior) shows the depths of kinship—similarities siblings can’t help sharing but learn to accept in themselves.

* speechless *

Sandler, of course, always goes back to Jewishness. He may be the least ethnically abashed Jewish film comic outside the Borscht Belt which is Jack and Jill’s natural strength. Jack’s self-consciousness about Jill is rooted in Jewish comics’ proverbial self-deprecation (that’s why the twinship premise). Jill’s large features, gaucheness, petulance and unsophisticated ways are not anti-Jewish traits but the qualities that insecure, social-climbing ethnic groups usually evade.

Maybe so! But again, even a broke clock is right twice a day, and alright, Armond White, perhaps social climbers (I’d even expand it beyond ethnic groups) seek to avoid an embarrassing past of some kind. But! Do we care about the filmmakers’ intent? Because, I mean, there’s just no fucking way that Adam Sandler wanted to make a brilliant allegory for the rise of the Jewish businessman. I’m pretty sure that’s the case.

And it really does matter whether we’re laughing with Jill (again, this is Adam Sandler in a fat suit and drag) in appreciation of her foibles as a recognizable, embarrassing but ultimately loveable part of our collective past. I don’t think that’s what’s happening here.

In Jill drag, Sandler looks like young women you see on the subway; she’s a homely archetype Fanny Brice, Judy Canova and Martha Raye made popular. (Eddie Murphy also mastered this comic affection in The Klumps and Norbit.) Credit Sandler’s subtle feminine caricature—especially in dancing and athleticism—that avoids making Jill a clownish grotesque like Tyler Perry’s Madea. Perry’s drag is based in parodying ethnic shame. In Jack and Jill Sandler embraces rude, crude and earthy in ways that Tyler Perry wouldn’t dare. Or will he ever?

I’ll skip over the obscure film references–but again, Norbit? Having seen none of these things, I can’t really speak to the comparison. I’m sure there are differences between them. And while it’s nice to know that somewhere out there, there’s someone who takes these things Fucking Seriously, it’s a little off-putting to read a criticism of Madea that 1) evokes lots of other movie characters most people have never heard of and 2) uses the words “Sandler’s subtle feminine caricature” in describing a movie that is characterized by “Jill’s bouts with farting and dropping chimichanga bombs.”

Sandler’s real dare is to defend ethnicity—not piously but through comedy that has social and political effect: When Jack’s WASP assistant (Nick Swardson) boasts that he’s almost Jewish because “I’m an atheist,” Jack looks nonplussed. Yet, Sandler isn’t.

That crafty Adam Sandler! Always a million steps ahead of us!

His comic introspection has a moral core. Appreciation of roots and background is what gives the film’s overlong but uproarious Al Pacino subplot its basis—it’s both crazily romantic and a professional salute. That’s because Sandler knows how our plumbing works.

Jesus, we can’t end like that. Roger Ebert, you get the last word.

I am fond of the story I tell about Gene Siskel. When a so-called film critic defended a questionable review by saying, “after all, it’s opinion,” Gene told him: “There is a point when a personal opinion shades off into an error of fact. When you say ‘The Valachi Papers’ is a better film than ‘The Godfather,’ you are wrong.” Quite true. We should respect differing opinions up to certain point, and then it’s time for the wise to blow the whistle.

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One thought on “Reviewing the Reviews: Armond White Loves Jack & Jill

  1. Pablo Martin Podhorzer says:

    I did not finished reading this post. If you don´t know who Lubitsch was, you should not be writing about movies until you learn a little bit about them. Armond is one of the only true film critics standing today. The rest are Ebert-like TV “critics” and web-based fanboys.

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