REVIEW: That's My Boy Would Be Good Raunchy Fun, If Not for One Fatal Flaw
To say that That's My Boy is a step up from the recent output of Adam Sandler and his company Happy Madison Productions really is to suggest only that the film isn't likely to be screened as some sort of new Guantanamo interrogation technique. Jack and Jill, Zookeeper, Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star — these movies aren't merely bad, they're sandpaper-on-skin excruciating, unfunny to the point of inspiring hostility toward whoever's chosen to make them. Sandler, once upon a time, was king of a winning kind of anarchic, gleeful stupidity — Billy Madison holds up so well (seriously, it does) because it feels like it's just every idiotic gag that he and his buddies could come up with while crowded around a table littered with bongs and beer cans, crammed into an hour and a half. These late features have an undercurrent of misanthropy — their silliness isn't inclusive, its confrontational and unpleasant, as if it was a chore to have to be bothered to actually make the movie in order to get everyone paid.
That's My Boy, which was directed by Sean Anders (of Sex Drive) from a script by Happy Endings creator David Caspe, isn't nearly as problematically hateful (with the exception of the introduction, which I'll get to later). It's a celebration of vintage '80s dirtbaggery, a beer-guzzling, bird-flipping rebuke to contemporary calorie-counting, omega male meekness that finds Sandler back in only somewhat worse-for-wear form as an agent of chaos. He plays Donny Berger, an aging Massachusetts party boy (the phrase "wicked" gets a workout) whose onetime fame/infamy has faded along with his income until he finds himself facing three years in jail for failing to pay his taxes unless he can come up with $43,000 by next week. Donny's only got a few bucks to his name and no prospects to speak of except for his long estranged son, played by Andy Samberg — and while he's reluctant (and skeptical) about going to the kid for money, he cuts a deal with trashy talk-show host Randall Morgan (Dan Patrick) to squeeze one last bit of cash out of his past celebrity by agreeing to stage a family reunion with the boy and his mom.
Donny's child has grown into a neurotic, successful hedge fund manager who now goes by Todd — he's rejected the name (Han Solo) given to him by his young dad, as well as the man's negligent parenting techniques and lifestyle. Todd is set to marry Jamie (Leighton Meester) out on Cape Cod, where they're all staying in the luxurious summer home of Todd's boss Steve (Tony Orlando). Thanks to a wedding announcement in the paper, Donny knows where to find them, and turns up with an overnight (garbage) bag, forcing Todd to hurriedly declare Donny his long-lost best friend, as he told everyone his parents both died in an explosion when he was young.
Straight man isn't a good use for Samberg's comedic gifts — he seems too at ease with himself to play what's essentially a role for Michael Cera (whom he does eerily channel in some of his early scenes). Todd is awkward and uptight — he carries an extra pair of underwear around with him as a kind of security blanket — and likes to show off his ability to multiply large numbers in his head (he always precedes his answers with a robot-style "bleep bleep bloop"), but Samberg still comes across as the guy most likely to have a joint to share at the back of a party rather than as a fawning nerd.
That's My Boy is Sandler's show, anyway, and his Donny somehow charms everyone with his constant beer-drinking, dick jokes and insistence on bringing back the Budweiser commercial catchphrase "Whassup?" Donny loves strip clubs (his favorite also serves breakfast) and his old pal Vanilla Ice (who is to this movie what Al Pacino was to Jack and Jill, albeit with less range). And he slowly worms his way back into his son's heart and just a little bit into ours, culminating with a bachelor party montage that's the film's high point and its biggest celebration of trashed troublemaking.
That's My Boy is Sandler's raunchiest movie — its approach to sex is enthusiastic and juvenile and the opposite of the squeamishness of Bucky Larson. Three-ways are had with grandmothers, wedding dresses are defiled, sticky post-masturbatory tissues are flung everywhere and a late twist takes the film into what has to be new territory for a gross-out comedy. While maybe half of the jokes actually land, there's a cheery expansiveness to these antics — everyone's better when being a sloppy but genuine mess than when being a controlling phony. In other words, this is a film that finds poorly chosen, impulsive back tattoos endlessly hilarious.
Which brings us back to the intro, and the reason Donny is famous for the first place — a sequence that may kill the movie for some before it even gets going. That's My Boy starts in 1984, when Donny's a junior high student played by Justin Weaver who ends up getting seduced by his teacher Miss McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino). She takes his virginity and carries on an affair with him until they're discovered by the entire school at an assembly -- at which point the kids and faculty members applaud young Donny for his prowess in "living the ultimate teenage boy's fantasy." It's this Mary Kay Letourneau-style scandal that makes Donny into a celebrity and a hero for men everywhere because he managed not just to sleep with his teacher but to knock her up before she heads to jail.
This isn't a scenario completely resistent to comedy — 30 Rock included a similar storyline (using the same famous actress the film does for its present-day version of the seductress — if you're unfamiliar, the reveal's worth leaving her name unmentioned), and it was funny and oddly sweet. But here, both the focus on the world's celebration of this act of statutory rape and the actual portrayal of an adult woman coming on to a 12-year-old boy in the name of laughs is spectacularly uncomfortable and troubling. That's My Boy insists that Donny was not a victim, that what happened was every boy's dream, but the film makes the (unintended?) case that he was permanently warped by the incident, left stunted and half-formed. No matter how much good-hearted licentiousness follows in the rest of the movie, the opening sequence brings a unshakable sourness to the whole affair.