by Brett Parker
That’s My Boy is the latest low-brow and cheerfully delirious Adam Sandler yuk fest that comes to us packed with a hard-R rating, a rare occurrence in the junior-high-school-class-clown universe Sandler himself has institutionalized into our culture. Since Sandler’s exuberantly callow comedies speak directly to the slobbish 12-year-olds in all of us, they never truly needed raw adult content to garner appeal (after all, he’d be preventing a great deal of his teenage audience from buying tickets). Yet after the weakness of his most recent comedies, particularly the undeniable stink of Jack and Jill, Sandler probably felt an urgent need to return to the gut-busting irreverence of his earlier pictures with hedge-betting assistance from anything-goes raunchiness. Whether you see this move as calculation or desperation, the film itself is actually pretty damn funny. It’s rude, crude, foul-mouthed, immature, trashy, sloppy, boneheaded, and offends all kinds of tastes...and I loved every minute of it!
The film opens in 1984, where we see a 12-year-old trouble maker named Donny (Justin Weaver) serving detention for his older hottie teacher, Miss McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino). Donny lets it known to her that he has a crush on her and is shocked to discover that she wants him just as bad. Pretty soon, to his utter surprise, Donny is having sex with his dream teacher on the regular. Its not soon before their secret relationship is discovered though, along with the revelation that Miss McGarricle is pregnant with Donny’s child. McGarricle is sent off to women’s prison while Donny is ordered to take custody of his child when he himself turns 18. Yet Donny’s trysts with a much older teacher turns him into a national sensation and he becomes the unlikeliest celebrity this side of Kim Kardashian. Needless to say, Donny’s strange celebrity status prevents him from maturity and being a proper father.
Cut to 2012. The older Donny (Adam Sandler) is revealed to be a slobbish 80s relic whose been coasting on his celebrity name to put off getting an actual job for years. His laziness proves to do him in, however, when its revealed that he owes the IRS over $40, 000. It’s also discovered around this time that Donny’s long estranged son, Todd (Andy Samberg), is now a successful businessman whose about to marry a woman from a rich family (Leighton Meester).
Donny secretly hatches a sneaky plan to use his successful son to help him obtain the money. This plan involved Donny crashing his son’s wedding preparation week on Cape Cod. When he shows up, Todd is furious to see him, but is forced to introduce him to the in-laws as his “best friend.” Donny tries to reconcile with his boy, but the uptight Todd is still resentful of his lowlife father, one who allowed obesity and a New Kids on the Block tattoo to plague him in his youth. Running low on options, Donny figures the best thing to do is to liven up Todd’s richie surroundings. What ensues is a week filled with drinking, brawling, strippers, wild sex, shootings, and a whole lot of bodily fluids. Amidst this chaos, it appears there might be a chance that Todd can loosen up after all and perhaps, miraculously, get along with his father.
Sandler’s buffoonish universe is a world of comedy I’ve always bought into. The hidden complication within every Sandler comedy is how an outcast goofball can stay true to his ideals in a confusing, contradictive grown-up world. Of course the grown-up worlds depicted in his films are usually hostile and demented environments which make him look more sane by contrast. Yet audiences don’t seem to mind these hyperrealities, for our everyday plights can seem just as magnificently ridiculous in our own eyes. Plus, the hilarious and sentimental ways Sandler’s heroes usually deal with an uncertain world help provide us with a certain amount of inspiration. In a way, perhaps the idea of a Sandler hero, along with the growing trends of romantic leading everymen and deeply humanized superheroes, have contributed to this current generation’s favoring of unapologetic, scruffy individuality over rigorously traditional societal archetypes.
Lately, his films have lost a certain comic zest and have settled into an uninspired laxness. These comedies were never meant to be taken seriously, but their growing complacency with their own frivolousness have allowed a mind-numbing lameness to infect the material. As some of my friends have pointed out, its as if all the cheesy films his movie star character made in Funny People were now being produced for real. Thankfully, an R-rating has brought some of that old juice back into Sandler’s world, as That’s My Boy delivers the jolly chaos that made us treasure his films in the first place.
On the surface, That’s My Boy plays like a dirtier version of Mr. Deeds, with Sandler once again demonstrating that old comic ideal that uninhibited everyman hedonism is the perfect antidote to stuffy upper-class emptiness. Perhaps on a deeper level, however, Sandler is putting his old-school self out there to show the next generation how scrappy hilarity should be done. Maybe its no coincidence that his character is a fading jokester determined to show his apparent heir how to loosen the hell up and enjoy the perks of running wild. This theory is helped by the fact that his son is played by Andy Samberg, a comic talent bred by the current incarnation of Saturday Night Live. Samberg is a likeable comic talent, but I have my reservations about what SNL thinks its good for these days. The current crop of comedians on the legendary NBC show are good with ideas, but have little clue how to bring big laughs to life. Perhaps a lesson in Sandler’s gleeful lunacy would benefit that whole crew as well as most comedians of today.
Since most of the supporting characters in Sandler’s nuthouse universe are seen as outsized weirdos, it beautifully allows talented actors a chance to cut loose and get down with the weirdness. The snarling fink role thats a staple in these comedies is this time filled by Milo Ventimiglia as Todd’s future brother-in-law. Ventimiglia audaciously pokes fun at modern day soldiers all while concealing hilariously outrageous secrets. James Caan brings a stunningly quiet conviction to the role of a brawling priest and the result is even more hilarious than if the role were played more over-the-top. Vanilla Ice turns up as himself, and while his real life washed-up-ness can get tiresome at times, he’s thankfully just here to party and he certainly livens things up. Rex Ryan’s hilarious cameo as Donny’s lawyer shows that he can nail the film’s biggest acting challenge, for the real life coach of the New York Jets is convincing as a New England Patriots fan. And if the gorgeous Eva Amurri Martino has even half the acting chops of her mother, Susan Surandon (who turns up here in a logical appearance), then she’ll be a real pleasure to behold in future movies.
With a wild bachelor party that involves excessive urination and gunfire and one of the funniest masturbation scenes I’ve ever seen, Sandler has jumped back into the thick of his guy’s-guy humor, and I consider that a comic blessing. At a time when snarky randomness and toothless improv is running wild, perhaps Sandler’s messy manchild rambunctiousness is just what the comic doctor ordered. I recall that Happy Gilmore is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the few films that I could watch at random over the past decade and lose-my-breath from laughing every single time. It had a furious silliness and mad-dog preposterousness that didn’t let up for one single second. R-rated Sandler ventures may alienate some of his core audience, but if they can conjure up even half the laughs of that earlier powerhouse comedy, then I say more power to the dude.