Director: Kevin Smith; Screenplay: Kevin Smith; Starring: Jonah Hill, Taye Diggs, Robbie Margot, and Nicholas Cage as “Jill”
Run time: Three fucking hours
The word “masturbatory” gets thrown around a lot: Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life; Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, NY; Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master; MacArthur “Genius” Grant-winner Karen Russell’s nauseating novel, Swamplandia! That’s not to say that the criticism in these cases is necessarily off the mark, or somehow unmerited. It’s just that with Kevin Smith’s latest flick, Jill, never—outside of maybe Portnoy’s Complaint—has the term been so utterly appropriate.
Set in “the slight future,” as Smith put it in his recent, bizarre interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Jill stars Jonah Hill—fresh off his two Oscar-nominated supporting roles in Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street—as Adam Loudenslager, a lovable loser with zero prospects for love. Smith lays it on thick, too: Adam’s a self-professed “fat, lonely, fat, lonely Jew” with a lousy, soul-numbing job (the solitary proofreader at Sparxxx, obviously a futuristic, X-rated iteration of Tindr), two dead parents and a nagging aunt, some sort of glandular odor disorder, racist Tourette’s and a stutter, an overactive bladder, one hairy elbow, an affinity for vertically striped Izod golf shirts, glasses, acne, nosebleeds, nausea, and a spectacularly beautiful nymphomaniac roommate named Nirvana (WoWS’s Margot Robbie), who won’t even look at his face, let alone allow him into her bedroom. Smith covers all of this in the first few minutes via light-hearted biopic montage, narrated in a self-referential voiceover by the director himself, so that it comes as no surprise when we learn, as the montage leads us into the film’s first true scene—a morning elevator ride with Adam up to his office—that Adam has a severe internet porn problem.
As a matter of fact, this whole dystopian future world that Smith has created apparently has an internet porn problem. Porn is everywhere. Bus ads. T-shirts. Cereal boxes. Vanity license plates. The Weather Channel. Everywhere. In the intervening years, it’s apparently spread like a virus from screen to screen, surface to surface. We wonder if perhaps all sex in this alternate universe is just some form of masturbation: On one Google Glass-type device, people can even superimpose a porn of their choosing over their partner’s body and face.
Enter the film’s central conceit: Jill, an iPad-like tablet specifically designed for watching high definition, first-person internet porn, equipped with a fully integrated and interactive synthetic human vagina. (Also available in a “Jack” model—for all you feminists out there, Smith seems to be winking.)
Adam first comes across an ad for Jill in that elevator scene: on the in-elevator LED, while doubled over, hands on his knees, catching his breath from a frenetic and hilarious four-second jerk-off session after glancing at his smartphone’s background of boobs. Panting like a tired puppy, Adam gawks at the ad, mesmerized by its satin billows and sultry disembodied voice: “Hi there—you big, lonely boy. Meet—Jill.” The elevator pitch wraps up just as the bell sounds for Adam’s floor, and by the time we get Jill’s tagline—“Jill: You can literally fuck it with your dick!”—we know Adam’s a goner, so lovestruck he pukes.
The next forty minutes chiefly concern Adam purchasing Jill, getting to know “her,” and then fucking Jill (whose coquettish, tinted-glass voice is provided by Nicholas Cage in perhaps the year’s most remarkable performance) in various ways: comical (on the Salt and Pepper Shaker at a carnival); inventive (installing Jill on a rowboat); sad (on the Ferris wheel at the carnival); and, eventually, desperate and disturbing (recumbent bicycling around his LA neighborhood; ordering at a drive-thru; screaming at his aunt on the phone; taping Jill to the thin wall that separates Adam from his gorgeous roommate; and, of course, while scoping user profiles at work).
Soon enough, Jill, and Jill’s preprogrammed and automatically refreshed cache of every porno ever made, has reduced Adam to a blubbering, blank-brained, bloody-groined muddle—“Largely indistinguishable from someone actually in love,” his handsome, reasonable, yoga-instructor friend Lee (the ever-affable Taye Diggs) helpfully reminds us. “Except for your bloody dick, maybe.”
Adam abrogates that friendship for the sweet throbs of Jill, who praises his libido as he sits on the john and selects “fivesome,” “Addicted to Love” blaring from Jill’s high fidelity speakers, punctuated with screams of pure delight. In the end, however, Jill leaves Adam—turns herself off, so to speak. Adam’s sex, we’re to understand, no matter how urgent or frequent or tender, doesn’t satisfy Jill, and it never will.
Before we get too much further, I feel I need to point out that Kevin Smith maintains—somehow—that this film is not a socio-cultural commentary about the internet or technology or anything like that. He claims, emphatically, that this film is not intended as a thought experiment for how the internet epoch might be altering the very essence of our age-old concepts of love and devotion; nor does it examine how the exponential dissemination of pornography over the past couple of decades has fundamentally changed the way we view ourselves, our bodies, and others’; nor is he positing that our relentless advancements in technology have infantilized us and altered some basic understanding of self, and that technology might in the future affect how we handle the very imperatives of human interaction and our own infinite loneliness.
Now. In this reviewer’s humble opinion—I’m no illustrious indie auteur—there’s no way in hell Smith didn’t intend this film to be first and foremost a cautionary tale. In fact, that’s the only coherent interpretation available (I’ll get to that soon). But Smith realizes that such an interpretation poses a big problem, because it reduces his art to little more than a big-budget PSA: “Watch out for technology, you guys, cause it’s gonna getcha if you’re not careful!”
That’s to say that if this were in fact a film simply about the implications of a hypothetical but plausible technology (which it is), then the whole thing’s already dated, dead in the water: It’s a mere shell of a story, nothing more than a think piece, a novelty—an interesting and in some ways lovely vase, containing nothing. Thus the director’s myopic insistence that the film isn’t really about technology at all, “when you really think about it,” but about love. The oldest and truest story there is.
But if you take the technological aspect out of it—if Jill weren’t a computer program with an on-demand archive of every porno and nude scene ever shot, with an intimate first-person-view and a synthetic human vagina—nothing happens. Beyond choosing to buy Jill in the first place and then pounding her silicon to dust over the next two hours, Adam doesn’t do anything, doesn’t exercise any humanity or make any real choices. The very questions that have piqued so many of this film’s adoring fans and critics somehow don’t seem to bother Adam, or any of these characters, at all—Adam doesn’t wrangle with anything besides trying to stick his wiener into Jill’s “Dick Dock.”
And so this film is nothing more than masturbation.
For over three hours.
Not that there aren’t reasons to watch the film aside from its essential failures of story and character. First, there are the sex scenes, which, I assure you, are mind-blowing. And then there’s Nic Cage, who is simply not to be missed in this astonishing (castrato?) performance. Also, Jonah Hill, in familiar comedic territory here, gets to make about a million dick jokes. Jill—apparently due to being a porn service program—loves dick jokes. At one point Hill gets to deliver a full eleven minutes of uninterrupted sex jokes, a tour de force, most of which is unprintable. But many of the jokes are dumb enough to be charming—“Why can’t you hear a psychiatrist using the bathroom? The P is silent”; “What kind of bees make milk? Boobies.” And in fact, we think for a time that Jill, who professes love in every sexual encounter, might actually be in love—after all, Adam is the “lovable loser,” and, thanks in large part to Hill’s masterful mix of charm and vulgarity, we love him. So if we love him, we think—or we’re supposed to think—well then why shouldn’t Jill be able to love him, too?
Because Jill isn’t a person.
In the movie’s climactic and defining sequence, Lee visits Adam to implore him to put Jill down and once again join the world of men. Adam seems to wake up for a moment, and finally puts Jill down to go shower his crusty, scabrous groin. While Adam’s singing “Addicted to Love”in the shower, Lee steals Jill. He takes the tablet to a bachelor party, where Jill is passed from lap to lap like an hors d’oeuvre. When Lee returns Jill, Adam is furious at both of them, and he finally snaps.
Jill, however, having experienced the touch of many other men—men much more capable and attractive than Adam—seems devastated upon having to return to fucking only Adam’s weird little wiener. In response, Jill shuts down for good, committing silicon suicide.
“What’s the big deal?” Lee asks. “I sterilized it before I brought it back.”
“Jill isn’t an it,” says Adam, clutching the tablet to his bosom, his weak chin jutting out defiantly. “It’s a her.”
“It’s a her”: That phrase captures the entire movie’s message. A computer is not a person, and it can’t and won’t ever love you. No matter how much it wants to please or serve you or how good its synthetic human vagina feels or how much it seems to desire you and your weird little penis and all that you have to offer, it never ever will have the capacity to love you in the way that a human being—even a sociopathic nymphomaniac human being—has the capacity to love you, ever. Why? Say it with me:
Because it’s a computer.
You don’t need to see the movie to know how it will end. And, not to belabor the point, but this lesson—which any sane person with any experience with love or other people would come into the movie already knowing, just by dint of having the DNA of a rational human being—takes about three hours. Plus, this whole future world of Smith’s imagining, where everyone is apparently just living out a lesson that none of us in the real world even need to be taught, cost easily tens of millions of dollars to create.
In a year or two, maybe less, nobody will watch this film again. Unless, of course, they want to jerk off.
Roger is a composition teacher at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia. He's working on his first novel, and would like to tell you all about it.