Film Review – That’s My Boy
There was a pivotal moment in Adam Sandler’s career in 2002, when he starred in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love. Anderson took the volatile, unstable behavior Sandler exhibited as immature, comedic fodder in such films as Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore and channeled it into a volatile, unstable character, damaged at the core, but starving for acceptance. Sandler’s wacky antics were distilled into meaning and purpose, instead of childish mannerisms played for laughs. It was a moment that could’ve marked a new and interesting direction for the veteran Saturday Night Live comedian. Instead, Sandler would follow up Punch Drunk Love with the return to immature antics in such films as Mr. Deeds and Eight Crazy Nights.
With the occasional hiccup, it seems Sandler is set on making what has become a brand: The Adam Sandler Movie. With his latest, That’s My Boy, you get exactly what you’ve come to expect from Happy Madison (Sandler’s production company): immature, degrading humor. Sandler has even seemed to regress to speaking in the same mentally stunted speech pattern of an alcoholic-meets-retired-boxer. Then, to add effect to grandeur, Sandler sports a wig that looks like it was run over by a Zamboni and then cleaned by a cat. I suppose the two elements work together to create a motif, in a character who, as a teenager, had sex with his teacher, became famous for it, and then milked it for all its worth until there was no more celebrity left to bleed.
Sandler plays Donny Berger, who, after having sex with his teacher and knocking her up, was then was forced to raise the child when the teacher was sentenced to thirty years in prison for statutory rape and not having any remorse over it. The set-up is absurd, yet what’s truly strange is how close to reality it really is. At first I thought maybe that was the point, but by the end of the film I firmly believe the only point is to be absurd. The story really takes place years later, as Berger’s child has grown up, departed from his father’s presence and is attempting to live a somewhat “normal” life. Han Solo Berger (Andy Samberg), as Donny named him, has since changed his name to Todd Something, made a name for himself in the world of hedge funds, and is engaged to be married to a woman named Jamie (Leighton Meester). I use the words “a woman named Jamie” for a reason, because that’s all we ever know about her. Well, that, and a devious activity she likes to take part in.
In fact, we never really get to know any of the women in the film, which, to me, is the film’s worse atrocity—not completely because we never get to know them, but more so because of the characterizations the women in the movie are subjected to. Whores. They’re either a good whore, or a bad whore. Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit hyperbolic; however, they are only there to service the men, in one way or another. Most of the film’s female characters come from a strip club—complete with the rather conservatively clothed for a strip club stripper (with a heart of gold?) who seems just right for Mr. Han Solo Berger, and the old granny who’s ready to fulfill fantasies. This is a boy’s film. And I emphasize the word boy. As the famous Bechdel Test goes—the test being to meet the following criteria: 1. at least two women with names 2. talk to each other 3. about something either than a man—this movie fails. I don’t even think two women have a conversation with each other at all in the film.
Now, let’s step back from the critical analysis for a moment and remember what it is we’re talking about: an Adam Sandler movie. He’s packaged this subjugating humor as his forte. Even his earliest films blatantly parade a series of sexiest and homophobic jokes. His films provide the kind of humor a lot of straight (not sexuality), uptight, middle America can release their prejudices with. It also provides humor that I find myself laughing hysterically at. After just being this critical of Sandler’s films’ shortcomings, I still find myself always enjoying one before it’s over. Well, okay, not ALL of them, but they have a strange way of putting you in a good mood. Removing you from the humdrum of whatever and installing, for a few minutes, a sense that stupidity is just fine. That’s what happened with me here. As offensive and degrading as the humor in this movie is, I found myself laughing quite a bit at a good portion of the movie. Yeah, I know. I’m a terrible person.
Sandler, who is basically playing an older Billy Madison, actually kind of grew on me as the film progressed, and before too long I was rooting for him. Andy Samberg is reserved for the most part and suits the role just fine. And then there’s the film’s shiny, saving grace, Vanilla Ice. Ice actually has a substantial role and provides a hefty amount of laughs, but really just him being there was enough for me to enjoy his scenes. I guess I’m that easy. But then, we are talking about an Adam Sandler film.
Final Grade: C