Sunday, June 17, 2012


That’s My Boy, a new R-rated Adam Sandler vehicle, is an awful movie. But, when I sat there and watched it, I laughed. Sometimes I cringed, sure, and other times I gaped with something approaching admiration at the gleeful way the bar is consistently lowered, but I left the theater feeling something like satisfied. I can’t recommend this movie. I’m not even sure I want to defend it in any way. But I laughed and it is my duty to report that reaction. After all, as Roger Ebert once said, “If I laugh, I have to tell you it’s funny. I went to see Jackass, a shameful movie. I laughed all the way through it. I mean, I have to tell you that.”

I found That’s My Boy to be a movie so exuberantly vulgar, so excessively coarse and gross-out goofy that I could almost imagine the Farrelly brothers finding it a bit over the top. (It probably has more on-screen uses for bodily fluids than any comedy since their own There’s Something About Mary.) It’s all predicated on an off-putting inciting incident and then goes on to include a couple of twists that are just about as bad. And all through it, Sandler is doing one of his patented (and usually grating) braying-accent arrested-adolescent shticks. I usually don’t like Adam Sandler movies, but after such career nadirs as Grown Ups and Jack and Jill, truly awful movies following nearly two decades of awful movies, even a mild improvement feels pretty good. What can I say? This time around I found it funny, although not at first.

The whole thing starts in the mid-80’s when a teacher (Eva Amurri Martino) has an affair with a student (Justin Weaver) – a teenager named Donny who grows up to be Adam Sandler. It’s not every day a comedy starts off with some casually presented statutory rape, but there you have it. I wasn’t laughing yet, that’s for sure. It’s uncomfortable to say the least, especially when the teacher is shipped off to prison pregnant and the eventual baby is left in the custody of the kid and his deadbeat dad. Luckily we cut ahead over twenty-five years later so we don’t have deal with the whole immediate implications of this scenario, skipping through an opening credits montage that spoofs the culture’s gendered double standard about this sort of scandal. Donny gains immediate fame through the talk show circuit – Arsenio and Letterman – as well as selling the rights to his life story for a TV movie, but soon enough his fame has dried up and he’s no better off than his fellow has-been pal Vanilla Ice (as an exaggerated buffoonish version of himself).

When the movie proper picks up, Donny, a drunken mess of perpetual boorishness, has just learned that he owes $40,000 to the IRS since he hasn’t paid taxes since 1994. He’ll go to prison unless he pays off the debt by Tuesday. Stewing at his usual table at his favorite (but dilapidated) strip club, he notices the wedding section of the New York Times where who should he see but his estranged son (Andy Samberg). He’s now a rising hedge fund manager marrying a pretty young woman (Leighton Meester) from a wealthy family. In fact, the whole wedding party – the bride’s parents (Blake Clark and Meagen Fay), grandmother (Peggy Stewart) and soldier brother (Milo Ventimiglia), the groom’s boss (Tony Orlando), and some straight-laced co-workers (Will Forte, Rachel Dratch) – is staying in a mansion on the coast of Massachusetts for the ceremony this very weekend. Donny, in a desperate attempt to raise the necessary funds, convinces a tabloid TV show to meet him at the prison and stage a reunion between teacher, student, and son and sets off to trick his son into this plan, but soon finds he’s having a pretty good time just being reunited.

So Donny bumbles his way into the wedding party and throws everybody for a loop. It’s like The Hangover crash-landed into the middle of Meet the Parents. Director Sean Anders (writer of the so-so Hot Tub Time Machine) and writer David Caspe (who works for the sit-com Happy Endings) haven’t exactly made a comedy of errors. This is a comedy of sexual dysfunction, of non-stop profanity and raunchiness, of panicked social anxiety and endlessly protracted embarrassment. But rather than mere juvenile tittering and strange squeamishness of usual Sandler fare, this is an enthusiastically rude embrace of base instincts and bad behavior. The straight-arrow son running from his irresponsible father is drawn back into his web of debauchery and is shocked to find how much fun it can be, especially when so many of the wedding guests seem so charmed by his coarseness and party-animal antics. And, sure, father and son have a lot of learning to do from each other, learning to live a full life and yada yada (it’s basically an inverted Big Daddy without the moral), but the level of manic depravity on display here is truly staggering. And I laughed a lot.

This is no typical Sandler movie, which are usually somewhere between a PG and a PG-13, lightly vulgar, cheap, sentimental efforts with plenty of saccharine uplift and a safer-than-not gross-out sensibility. This movie puts the hard-R in hard-R comedy, leaning against boundaries cheerfully and with such unashamed commitment. And the cast is so game, tearing into this material with surprisingly appealing energy and timing. This is a shameful movie that starts so tasteless it can only go up, but it still finds plenty of ways to shock, through some appalling (and funny) revelations and sheer volume of vulgarity. But surprise of surprises, Sandler and Samberg have nice chemistry and the supporting cast is so willing to go along with the surprisingly amusing material which grows more complicated and picks up speed as the narrative hurtles towards the ceremony. (And, of course, we have to see teacher and student meet again, and she’s now played by an Academy Award winning actress about whom I wouldn’t have guessed we’d now be able to say is making a habit of this sort of thing.)

Where does that leave us? It’s a movie in which sometimes-funny people have a good time in material a smidge rougher than you’d expect, finding jaw-dropping lines to cross and combining what would be all the raunchiest bits of marginally cleaner movies into one long parade of impropriety. And it’s handled with such slickness and even good-natured nastiness at times. Other times there are jokes that don’t go over so well and are just plain nastiness. The movie’s based on a premise so cringingly awful that I wish the filmmakers could have found a premise that was somewhat easier to take but that still got us to the same destination. So we’re right back where we started. I completely understand where people who will hate this movie will be coming from. It’s awful. But I did laugh.

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