Jennifer Aniston has appeared opposite all sorts of leading men in recent years, including a dashing foreigner (Clive Owen), a steaming pile of machismo (Gerard Butler) and a handsome cerebral type (Aaron Eckhart). None of those pairings quite worked, and it’s been depressing to see the spunky, appealing Aniston, who is a gifted comedian, flounder in movie after movie. In Just Go with It, a loose but fairly snappy remake of the 1969 charmer Cactus Flower, she’s teamed with the perennially immature, decidedly nonchiseled Adam Sandler and does her best work in years — while making Sandler’s classically crass character seem almost bearable.
Sandler plays Danny, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. Danny is a pig in his prime, a man who has lied to women for some 20 years, always pretending to be married, but tragically so: the wife cheats on him, beats him, never gave up “hooking.” The lies are elaborate and improbable, but women, those gentle innocents, never seem to catch on. We’re in on the motivation for this: Danny overheard his bride, on what was to be his wedding day, admitting she was marrying him only because he was going to be a doctor. After accidentally discovering the magical girl-attracting properties of the ring, he never again took it off. Now, as he tells us, it’s his “precious.” The delivery is supposed to be Gollum’s, but it’s really pure Sandler —sloppy, silly humor.
Maybe Sandler really can’t help himself; when he sees an opportunity for an eighth-grade joke, he goes for it. The effect is jarring when we’re being asked to enter a fantasy in which a gorgeous 23-year-old sixth-grade teacher named Palmer (Brooklyn Decker, a swimsuit model 21 years Sandler’s junior) falls madly in love with Danny. Like Goldie Hawn in Cactus Flower, Palmer is a kind and decent girl (although Decker is not one-tenth the cinematic enchantress the Oscar-winning Hawn was). Goldie was fine with being a mistress, but the ring is a turnoff to Palmer. She won’t dally with a married man.
Trapped in his lie, Danny promises her he’s getting divorced, and just as Walter Matthau did with Ingrid Bergman in the 1969 version, must find someone to play his fake soon-to-be ex-wife — whom he would like, for reasons of pride, to be “hot.” Enter Aniston, playing Danny’s practical, supposed-to-be-mousy office assistant Katherine (oh, to be a mouse like that!). She’s a single mom with two children, Maggie (Bailee Madison) and Michael (Griffin Gluck), and after 10 years of working for Danny, she’s fond enough of him that when he asks her to be his accomplice, she agrees. Since Katherine dresses in what Danny terms “the best Old Navy has to offer,” she needs a makeover. Let the shopping montage commence! It’s touching that director Dennis Dugan and writers Allan Loeb and Timothy Dowling thought to include this scene for the women in the audience. Any of us who winced at the term “fun bags” or groaned at the way Danny speaks only to Palmer’s cleavage would presumably take comfort in those precious moments watching Katherine try on shoes.
Assuming a sexy, imperious identity as Devlin — the name of her high school nemesis — Katherine has some fun with the masquerade. So do her children, who get roped into playing Danny and “Devlin”‘s children. These kids, particularly the precocious Maggie, who likes to slip into an arch Cockney accent, really ought to be annoying (they are such movie brats), but the young actors playing them are so deft and committed to what they’re doing that they broke down my resistance.
In a broader sense, that’s what the movie did as well. The charade presents many opportunities for laughs, some involving broad physical comedy — quite a bit of which is centered around the Los Angeles obsession with plastic surgery — and others using actual wit with words. I’d never call Just Go with It sophisticated, but it’s got a good-natured vibe. Even Nicole Kidman, in a smallish part in which she’s paired with rock star Dave Matthews, seems to be relaxed and having a fun time.
The bottom line is, Aniston and Sandler have a genuine spark, both in their verbal volleys and in the warmth with which Danny and Katherine regard each other. They make such good foils for each other that the sophomoric elements endemic to Sandler’s work — guys getting socked in the crotch and such — fade into the background a bit. By the time the whole crew travels to Hawaii for a “family” trip, accompanied by Danny’s gross cousin Eddie (the amusing Nick Swardson) posing as Devlin’s lover, I start to believe it possible that Katherine might be good for Danny, and vice versa. Maybe even as good as Aniston is for Sandler and he for her.