Inexplicably absent from the Oscar conversation so far this season is a quiet little film about aging, relationships and that most brutal of human emotions, the fear of dying alone. Perhaps it's a matter of marketing: in a decision that can only be described as odd, Sony Pictures decided to promote 'Jack and Jill,' a movie that offers no laughs, as a comedy. Could it be by design? Could it be that Sony doesn't want you to be aware of the emotional horrors that await audiences who do indeed decide to watch 'Jack and Jill'? Because 'Jack and Jill' is one of the saddest, most gut-wrenchingly depressing products of the human imagination ever seen on screen. It may also be the most important movie ever made.
The film stars an actor by the name of Adam Sandler ('Bulletproof') as Jack Sadelstein. But before we can really learn about Jack Sadelstein, we must, first, understand Jack's twin sister, Jill Sadelstein. Unless you've done your research beforehand, it may come as a surprise to learn that Sandler also plays the role of his own sister. In any other situation, I'd be hesitant to share this information, knowing that once the illusion is revealed, it could prove detrimental to the message that 'Jack and Jill' so urgently wants to convey. But Sandler so effortlessly transforms himself into Jill Sadelstein that, even armed with this information, you may still want to doubt the accuracy of what I'm telling you. Fair enough! The performance is just that nuanced.
Jill Sadelstein is the epitome of sadness. No character in this year's crop of Oscar contenders evokes so much -- dare I say it? – empathy. She's alone. And, worse, she's scared. Jill Sadelstein's best friend was her mother. That's why, unlike her brother, Jack, who moved to the sun-soaked precincts of Los Angeles (just typing this, I still can't believe we're talking about the same actor), she stayed in New York City. Specifically, the Bronx. Jill stayed behind, sacrificing her own personal relationships (and never learning to repress her casual racism) to care for her mother. Sure, Jill had a dream, too -- we learn early on that she wanted children of her own -- but she let those dreams go.
Tragically, Jill Sadelstein's mother recently passed away. Now, Jill finds herself a 42-year-old woman with no family. She's alone. And, to make matters worse, she has severe gastrointestinal problems. Even though these kind of bodily issues can be embarrassing -- even humorous -- Sandler portrays them so deftly, so cunningly, that, somehow, there is not one laugh to be had at Jill's expense.
It bears repeating: understanding Jill Sadelstein is the key to understanding Jack Sadelstein. Unlike Jill, Jack moved away to become a successful director of commercials. His choice of career speaks volumes about his character: Jack sold out, by directing commercials he became the ultimate sell out. What's so interesting about Jack Sadelstein is that, deep down, we see his pain. Even as we watch Jack take out his frustrations on his visiting sister, Jill -- violently, at times -- we know there's a decent human being in there. Somewhere. We just know it. We have to know this, or all is lost for both of these characters. All Jack wants is peace. All Jill wants is Jack's love, because Jill does not want to die alone -- yet Jack consistently rejects his twin sister. Only when Jack dresses up as Jill -- literally assuming her identity -- does he finally understand her pain.
If the executives at Sony have any sense whatsoever, they will submit Sandler's performance as Jill Sadelstein in the Best Actor category and his role as Jack Sadelstein in the Best Supporting Actor category, because for Adam Sandler to win just one Oscar for this film would be a crime against humanity -- plain and simple.
Overshadowed by Sandler's bravura performance are those of Al Pacino ('The Godfather: Part III') and Johnny Depp ('The Astronaut's Wife'). It's a testament to the material that these two acting heavyweights are nothing more than afterthoughts -- the audience is left wondering, What exactly are these two doing in this movie?
This is a very hard movie to watch. Future generations will study this film and ask, "How can something like this happen?" Jill's gastrointestinal problems, for instance, are no laughing matter. The scene where she eats chimichangas is particularly devastating. It is her first Mexican meal (how sheltered her life has been!), and the look she gives, upon realizing that she is causing the rest of her family distress -- because they can smell her chimichanga farts and those farts stink -- is an image I will carry with me to my own death.
I can honestly say that I did not laugh one time during 'Jack and Jill.' It's that depressing. But it is also an important movie that every man, woman and child on this Earth should be forced to watch. Forced to see the pain as I saw the pain. Forced to make sure nothing like what we see onscreen with Jack Sadelstein and Jill Sadelstein ever, ever happens again.
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