The Projector

Meet Armond White, the One Critic Who Really Loves Adam Sandler Movies

Tim Grierson
The Projector

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In our review of "Jack and Jill," we mentioned that Adam Sandler's latest comedy was "such a broad, lazy, simple film that it'll probably inspire some critics to dig in to find extra levels of meaning underneath it all." By "some critics," we meant one in particular: Armond White, City Arts film critic and former chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle.

White is an infamous contrarian -- a lifelong Spielberg fan, he loved "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," calling it far superior to the "lusterless, pandering 'Iron Man' [that] is lavished with praise due to its bland political postures" -- and his annual "Better-Than" list (where he rips on the year's most acclaimed movies and selects similar, better films) is always entertaining. He's a big Sandler supporter -- about the only critic who is. So we shouldn't be surprised that he loved "Jack and Jill."

Not only did he think it was a great comedy, he's probably the only reviewer to work in a reference to Ernst Lubitsch:

Adam Sandler's comedies are not "dumb fun"; maybe that's why they're not in critics' favor. 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 "upset people who didn't like to admit they have plumbing."

White goes on to compare "Jack and Jill" to ancient Greek comedy and "Norbit," which White also loves. And in typical White fashion, he uses the movie he's praising as a way to knock movies or filmmakers that other people like. ("[Sandler] explores affection without the class and gender guilt Judd Apatow hides behind.") He can't seem to help it: As he explained to New York magazine a few years ago, the difference between him and other critics is "they don't see what I see. Where I'm coming from, they couldn't."

Not surprisingly, his positive "Jack and Jill" review has made him a target for people who simply can't believe that any living soul could possibly like that movie. And while we didn't enjoy the film at all, we really enjoy White's skewed perspective on Sandler's work. There are plenty of examples in White's other reviews of Sandler films:

From "Bedtime Stories"
"[The] stories range from Ancient Greece, Outer Space and the Old West to Medieval times -- a genuinely cinematic panorama. Myth folds into contemporary living, rejuvenating Skeeter's work-life and family heritage -- vital things that hipster filmmakers P.T. Anderson and Soderbergh and Fincher dismiss. Sandler outpaces them all."

From "Grown Ups"
"Grown Ups borrows a Mike Leigh title but doesn't disgrace it. It's not a high-concept film about good old boys' arrested development; their women's reactions significantly put the boys' egotism in perspective. It's altogether about the disappointments and self-deprecation that men who are intimate with each other might be reluctant to share yet cannot deny."

From "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry"
"Half the fun is knowing how thoroughly these jokes will outrage the PC brigade -- especially with other bad-boy gags in the mix. The ultimate moral lesson -- that sexuality has absolutely nothing to do with who Chuck and Larry are as people -- may seem simplistic, but the focus on humanity (including a traditional courtroom climax to restore society's balance) proves that lesson is sound. ... It's a modern classic .... By comparison, Hollywood's most celebrated gay comedies -- In and Out, Chuck and Buck, Blades of Glory, even the laughable Brokeback Mountain -- were all failures of nerve."

Do we agree with any of this? No, we do not. But we love a smart critic who's willing to go against the grain to offer an alternate take on some conventional critical wisdom. And he doesn't just say, "Ha ha, Sandler is hilarious!" He actually goes to the trouble of explaining exactly what it is that works for him in movies that the rest of the critical community loathe. Isn't that what good criticism is supposed to do, even if you don't share White's view? Yes, he can be irritatingly provocative and combative for no good reason, but when it comes to his consistently unique takes on Sandler (and others), we're glad he's out there leading the loyal opposition.

Not that you should see "Jack and Jill," mind you. Seriously, it's not good.

Plumbing Ethnicity: Sandler's Jack, Jill and Tyler Perry [City Arts]

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