Lasciate ogne speranza, voi chi’intrate. How did it come to this? At the height of his power in Hollywood in 1999, Adam Sandler founded his own production company as a way to continue making the movies he enjoys. Over the years his films have slowly morphed into a pariah on the landscape of big budget studio comedies, becoming thinly veiled excuses for lavish vacations. But do they truly represent the nadir in the career of one of comedy’s once-brightest stars? Are there any hidden or underrated gems? Is there such a thing as too few fart jokes? Will I retain any sense of sanity by the end of this? Join me and find out, as we venture to the Happy Valley.
Comedy is all about suspension of disbelief and accepting the unbelievable. Even in more grounded comedies, the moment you begin to question the logic, their appeal would instantly crumble. Indeed, if the movies were modeled accurately after real life, they would be much, much less exciting. To enjoy any part of That’s My Boy, you not only have to get past its repugnant opening segment but also accept the reality that Adam Sandler, director Sean Anders and screenwriter David Caspe are selling us.
A better, well-constructed film could potentially overcome a premise based on questionable morals, but if you go into a Sandler comedy expecting nuanced storytelling, somebody lied to you. That’s My Boy can’t even rely on the argument that it’s going for shock humor or being subversive because the film isn’t even a little self-aware that what it’s peddling could be controversial. It’s hard to know exactly who deserves the bulk of the blame for the end result of the film. Should it go to Caspe for writing the screenplay? Caspe has made a solid career in creating and writing television, including the series Happy Endings, a personal favorite and one of the brighter spots of the Peak TV era, so it’s disappointing to know he was involved in the film in any capacity. Should the blame go to Sandler? It’s hard to verify, but he is uncredited as rewriting the screenplay, along with Tim Herlihy, Robert Smigel, David Wain and Ken Marino. Plus, he’s the star of the film (not to mention its producer); surely he was the main reason audiences were enticed to see the film in the first place. Does Anders deserve the blame? The director of any film oversees every aspect of the production, so by allowing the opening bit in the film, he effectively signed off on its approval.
If you’re unfamiliar with That’s My Boy — and I wish I could be so lucky now — the premise in question revolves around Sandler’s character, Donnie Berger, having an extended relationship with his teacher in middle school and later impregnating her. Unafraid to stop there, the film then goes on to make Donnie a hero, earning him tabloid infamy, TV guest spots and all the spoils of a self-made celebrity. A more polished film could use this premise to explore or satirize the inherently misogynistic double standards in the media and the justice system — or at least hint at it — but again, this is a Happy Madison film. What I found most frustrating is that the film could have easily survived as another middling, mediocre comedy without the conceit of Donnie as a Paris Hilton / Kim Kardashian type. In fact, I found myself forgetting how much I actively hated the film during the middle third with Sandler and Andy Samberg (playing Donnie’s adult son) and their bachelor party shenanigans. Donnie does nothing with his privileges throughout the film, and by the time we meet his adult self, he’s a loser and in debt. The rest of the film isn’t even concerned with a personal redemption for Donnie. By taking this stance, it takes That’s My Boy from a film with a questionable standing to one that’s morally bankrupt.
I can distinctly remember the film being marketed before its release as a celebration for Sandler, making a return to R-rated comedy and bringing in many of the hallmarks that made him a star at the beginning of his career. All the elements were there: the goofy voice affectation, the high-concept premise, the ridiculous slapstick and pratfalls. Sandler even brought along Samberg to co-star, who was widely seen as Sandler’s heir apparent at Saturday Night Live at the time. Samberg mostly survives intact by the end of the film, but Anders and company waste a real opportunity to showcase the actor’s gifts for high-energy awkwardness. The film really only uses its R rating as an excuse to throw in more F-bombs than a Tarantino film and add in a handful of topless women at a strip club. That’s My Boy was sold as Sandler’s chance to break out and do something different, freed from the shackles of the MPAA. Instead, it just ended up being more of the same.
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: The opening bit with former New York Jets coach Rex Ryan was funny, but surely less so for any audience seeing this in the intervening years after That’s My Boy was released.
- Just Go With It – The Happy Madison Promise: As a marathon runner, I couldn’t let go of the conclusion of the film, which revolves around an obese man winning the Boston Marathon — hardy har har — with a time of 2:01:37. In 2012, the world record for the men’s marathon in was 2:03:38.
- Fart Joke Counter: I’ll admit, my eyes were glossed over for much of this film, but I don’t believe there are any. If anybody wants to fact check me though, I’ll take your word for it over having to watch the film again.
- The Walkout Test: Give me a break. Fail.
- NEXT TIME: Kevin James returns in Here Comes the Boom, a film about a P.O.D. tribute band, I assume.