Dir: Adam Sandler, Screenplay: Adam Sandler, Cast: Adam Sandler, Katie Holmes, Al Pacino
When Jack & Jill hit theatres in 2011, it suggested an artist at a crossroads. While the critical response at the time of its release was universally poor, the film will survive into the syllabi of film studies departments for decades as context for the follow up, 2012’s alarming The Sadness of Our Generation. The ugly slapstick and demeaning gender-bending roleplay of Jack & Jill was, clearly, a shot across the bow; it proved to be a veneer over an unfathomably dense tragedy, which has, with the release of The Sadness of Our Generation, eroded at last.
Made for $70,000 over twenty-three days in a rented Craftsman home in the Los Angeles suburb of Downey, The Sadness of Our Generation is undeniably le vrai cinema du Sandler. In addition to writing and directing, he’s credited as Director of Photography, Editor, Music Supervisor, plays the lead role, and apparently cast the film’s other two actors based on legal obligations in their Jack & Jill contracts. One wonders where this auteur had been hiding, or if he existed all along, tangled in the birdlime of Hollywood; rumors of a stunningly heartbreaking four-and-a-half-hour “producer’s cut” of Jack & Jill have been substantiated and perhaps lend credence to this postulation. Although that version of Jack & Jill has yet to see an official release, clamor over the unexpected emotional devastation of The Sadness of Our Generation will undoubtedly force a re-examination, and perhaps additional revisions, of Sandler’s oeuvre.
The three-hour film concerns one week in the life of a shut-in Iraq War veteran, Joe Fine (Sandler), who is wracked by PTSD and its ensuing complications, one of which is the recurring hallucination of an Army nurse named Joelle (Holmes) who may or may not be his lonely, meth-addicted VA case worker. When Joelle dies mysteriously in Joe’s home, Joe rifles through what’s left of his sanity to understand the circumstances of her death and delve into his own complicity. As he makes what he believes are the steps necessary to clear his name—one of which includes dressing in Joelle’s clothes and behaving in her mannerisms to inhabit her possibly suicidal motivations—he fearfully awaits a visit from law enforcement, at one point destroying every clock and timepiece in his house, to ostensibly make the passage of time, and his certain fate, less inevitable.
When a visitor finally appears, it’s one Mr. Blank (Pacino) a Chex Mix-eating, putative “investigator from the VA” who deftly imprisons the exhausted Joe (still dressed in Joelle’s clothes) in his own basement. Mr. Blank appears unable to distinguish Joe from Joelle, leading Joe to confront his greatest fear and actually insist to law enforcement that Joelle is dead somewhere in his house and he should be arrested for the crime. Mr. Blank, however, doesn’t seem to acknowledge this information, and the final thirty minutes of the film are a dark spiral of sex-slavery and broken-man insanity, as Joe’s few threads connecting his psyche to the outside world are forcefully severed.
The final scene—which will make you never look at Chex Mix the same way again—is as grim and tragic as anything modern actors have ever committed to celluloid. You can’t unsee certain things, and this film—which is unquestionably the most affecting piece of cinema I have ever experienced, and in my opinion, should sweep all Academy Awards for which it qualifies—I never, ever, wish to see again.
All eyes are now on Sandler, who is rumored to be shooting a $150-million prequel, tentatively titled The Mustering Officer, on location in Mosul, with Holmes and Pacino attached in the same roles.
J. Ryan Stradal's writing has also appeared in Hobart, The Rattling Wall, The Rumpus, Midwestern Gothic, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and The Nervous Breakdown, among other places. He also volunteers with students at 826LA, helps create products and materials for the Echo Park and Mar Vista Time Travel Marts, works in TV, and co-produces the literary/culinary series Hot Dish. His name has appeared one time in the credits of a feature film.