Leave it to Adam Sandler to explore the comic potential of a 13 year-old being deflowered by a middle school teacher. In That’s My Boy, which is a thousand times better and funnier than Jack and Jill, Sandler’s last movie, yet still falls short of actually being good, Sandler plays Donny Berger, a lout from the Boston suburb of Somerville. Donny spent 1984 being hot for teacher (Eva Amurri Martino) and the rest of his life being infamous for having sex with said teacher and irresponsible about the consequence, a baby boy named Han Solo Berger.
With Mom in prison, teenaged Dad Donny stuffed the child with cake and ice cream, let him drive at 8 (designated driver) and had his back tattooed with all of the New Kids on the Block. Since living with Donny was like being trapped in a Hangover movie that never ended, Han Solo took off as soon as he turned 18. He was obese and diabetic when he left Donny’s nest, but managed to reinvent himself as Todd Peterson (Andy Samberg), a fit, wealthy hedge fund manager and all around sweetie pie with just a wee dependence on Zanax.
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Todd wants nothing to do with Donny, which seems like a fantastic idea we’d support, but Donny, facing a $43,000 tax bill from the IRS, comes up with a nefarious and sleazy plan to raise the money that requires Todd’s participation. On the eve of Todd’s tasteful seaside wedding to high maintenance Jamie (Leighton Meester), Donny shows up with his mullet and acid-washed denim wardrobe, toting an overnight bag. “What’s that, Louis Vuitton?” Todd says, voice dripping with sarcasm. Donny looks puzzled. “It’s a Hefty bag,” he says, then proceeds to unpack his necessities: condoms, weapons, beer. It’s a culture (and class) clash, but Donny can’t and won’t be cowed. He’s a man of the people and proud of it.
Many lies and deceptions follow, including one that Donny is Todd’s best friend. At one point, a character has drunken relations with a wedding dress (which sounds hard, but if the flesh is willing…). There’s a great deal of nostalgia involved, not just for the ’80s, but for the years immediately before and after that decade. Todd Bridges from Diff’rent Strokes works at an ice rink. Nineties rapper Vanilla Ice, playing himself, has sex with Tony Orlando’s grandmother. Or rather, the ’70s pop star’s character’s grandmother, who is played by an 89-year-old actress (Peggy Stewart). That’s My Boy offers a very thorough sampling of twisted sex, without judgment. The soup to nuts of sex acts are supported and even applauded, except for incest. That remains taboo, which means there is a shred of hope for civilization.
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I did laugh. The movie is so disgusting it is worthy of the Farrelly brothers. It contains the longest simultaneous joke about child rape and its effects on the victim (drug abuse, alcoholism, etc.) ever made. Call me a prude, but you know, little Donny was raped. I had to turn away from the screen at times—apologies to the sisterhood of acceptance of all body types but the more I saw of Donny’s best stripper friend (the zaftig Luenell, who played the hooker in Borat) topless or pole dancing, the queasier I felt. But again, I did laugh. It’s not so much the jokes as written but the go-for-broke performances. Vanilla Ice is funny. Milo Ventimiglia, who was not exactly a barrel of laughs in Heroes, is hilarious as Jamie’s super serious soldier brother Chad. Sandler has his moments, particularly while wielding a beer bottle. There’s a perfectly timed cameo involving an Oscar winning actress. Playing a pugilist priest, James Caan is supposed to be funny but instead is terrifying. He and Sandler, who weaves in and out of that weird, half-old-man-half-baby talk voice he likes so much, could have a championship slur-off.
But the truth is, even without pleasant surprises like Vanilla Ice and Ventimiglia, I’m not sure I could ever truly hate a movie that features so much of the adorable Andy Samberg, who acts his little heart out as if this were Shakespeare in the Park. Having the past and present Saturday Night Live cast members play father and son was a stroke of genius. I don’t know if director Sean Anders (who co-wrote the deliriously stupid Hot Tub Time Machine) was directly responsible, but he certainly was lucky. Samberg plays Todd as a sort of manchild, as fresh as a daisy, as affable as a puppy. Compared to Sandler’s Donny, who needs to be bathed, then fumigated, he’s practically dewy. His chin dimple has never seemed so akin to a baby’s bottom. He is also so fiercely dedicated to communicating the agony of what it was like to be raised by an idiot only 13 years older than him that for a few minutes here and there, I almost took That’s My Boy seriously.
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Speaking of, is Sandler’s foray into serious movies over? The best of them, Punch Drunk Love, won critical acclaim but didn’t appeal to his base. Spanglish and the most recent, 2009’s Funny People, were mediocre and underwhelmed at the box office. I believe I was one of 10 people nationwide who didn’t hate 2006‘s Reign Over Me. That’s a lot of rejection for an actor, so no wonder everything since Funny People has been a return to form. Certainly the clear signal Sandler sends with That’s My Boy is, here’s your boy—rude, crude and socially unacceptable, just the way you like him.