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Film Review – Jack and Jill

Venue: Cine 4, Ster-Kinekor, Maerua Mall
Film: Jack and Jill
Director: Dennis Dugan
Screenplay: Steve Koran and Adam Sandler
Players: Adam Sandler; Katie Holmes; Al Pacino
Genre: Comedy
Rating: **½

When Shakespeare wrote a play about a woman (played by a man) who disguises herself as a man (and was a man) who then attracts another man, doubtless Elizabethan audiences rolled in the aisles roaring with laughter. When Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis tried to escape the Mafia by disguising themselves as women and hiding in the bosom of a female band in ‘Some like it Hot’’ this was very funny, not least of which because Jack Lemmon’s character attracted the attention of a wealthy man; the closest he came to physical intimacy in those days was to do the tango somewhat energetically with a rose in his mouth. It was also amusing because both Curtis and Lemmon made reasonably attractive females. When Robyn Williams plays a woman in the comedy ‘Mrs Doubtfire’, half the humour arose from the fact that his female persona was physically hideous and the broad Scottish accent made the teeth curl. Who can forget the scene in the kitchen when his frying pan ignites and scorches his falsies?
And now we have Adam Sandler, who plays a set of twins, Jack and Jill. Jack is an advertising executive and producer, married to Erin (Holmes) and they have two children, the younger of which is Indian and adopted. There are satirical side-swipes at the political correctness of the American middle class, Jack Sedelstein, as the name suggests, is Jewish but his wife is not; however, she dutifully converted. Jill arrives in time for Thanksgiving dinner, to which they have invited a homeless person. His unease with the family dynamics results in his premature departure: a life back on the streets is preferable to dinner with the Sedelsteins. .Jack is conservative and – truth be told – a little boring in his righteous set of right-wing values. Jill, on the other hand, is outrageously spontaneous, still lives in the unfashionable Bronx, and is interested in people only for their humanity. As the Al Pacino character notes, Jill has so much love that she is ready to spread around.  The trouble is – her brother dreads her annual visit, which tends to be longer now that their mother has passed away.
The ‘twins’ routine had wonderful possibilities.  These are suggested in the opening and closing sequences of the film when pairs of identical twins face the camera for confessionals: the secret language between twins; for some the inequality of achievement; the sense of bonding and friendship; the intuitive understanding of each other’s thoughts and feelings. All these ideas are explored in which seems to be spontaneous dialogue. Some of the comments are as funny as high points in the film The point is made that the twin situation is like marriage – except that divorce is not possible.
Jill is hideous but likeable. With Mrs Doubtfire’s over-bustiness and frilly, satiny outfits with short skirts that are not flattering, combined with a hairstyle which would have received approval from Dolly Parton in her youth, Jill does not inspire confidence, much less instant attraction. Her warmth of personality is appreciated by Jack’s two children who can understand what Jack obstinately refuses to see: Jill’s genuine affection and generosity towards people.
Jill quotes maxims of her mother, such as ‘Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.’ Within minutes of her arrival, though, Jack is plotting her departure and the quickest (and most unrealistic) method he can devise is to find her a man. Launching Jill onto the internet falls far short of success. Surfing desperate websites like mysoulmate.com Jack turns up ‘Fun Bucket’ for Jill’s pseudonym, Manelow. Laughter is a small degree away from tears, and the poignancy of Jill’s rejection when her partner ducks out of the meal with the excuse of visiting the Gents is uncomfortable as Jill defends their limp salads from overly-efficient waiters and sits ‘like Patience on a monument,/ Smiling at grief.’ She visits the Gents to search for him but he escapes her notice by clinging to the light fixture on the ceiling.
The Sedelstein family does its best to give Jill a good time: she is taken to a pony rodeo and successfully squashes the pony two dimensional, with its legs splayed; she appears on a TV game show and is knocked unconscious as she is rolling the drum for the lucky number. A scene in the cinema, with the twins side by side, points to the similarities between them: they orchestrate eating popcorn at the same time, scratch themselves simultaneously and laugh at the same places in the film.
The Jill character sort of works: Sandler does a valiant job of affecting female body language, even to the details of moving his mouth differently when she is talking. Toilet humour (Sandler cannot resist this) and satirical one-liners about anti-Semitism definitely inhibit the comic element rather than augment it. Jill is endearing in all her flaws.
Some aspects of the film fail to work at all, however, The plot is preposterous: Al Pacino plays himself. He is on stage performing Shakespeare’s Richard 111 but Jack is warned that he must secure Pacino for an advertisement to promote a ‘Dunkachino’ because this rhymes with ‘Pacino’, or Jack will lose the advertising account. He sinks to using twin Jill as bait to secure Pacino’s services. There are some silly bits too: the vicissitudes of Jill’s cockatiel ceases to be funny, as it lands in all sorts of life-threatening situations. Gary, the Indian adoptee, tapes things to himself.  At Thanksgiving he has a pepper grinder taped to his forehead and a turkey drumstick strapped to his stomach. A Thanksgiving guest suggests that this is indicative of his insecurity in being plucked away from his own culture.
Katie Holmes is delightful in bringing a breeze of sanity and reason into the film: she is stereotyped as the dutiful, loving, and subservient mother and wife who does not maltreat Jill but fails to curb her husband’s petty cruelties. Pacino identifies with Jill as they share a Bronx background and attitude to life. Of course, like all Shakespeare’s comedies, ‘all’s well that ends well’ as the Sedelstein twins are united in affection and understanding. It is Jack who must revamp his attitude. One expects the corny ending. As the credits are rolling, the real twins make a re-appearance; one of them states emphatically and sincerely ‘I love my twin.  I cannot imagine life without my brother.’ Jill felt the same way.

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