Boy, How Childish
By Carl Kozlowski
When you’re the No. 1 comedy star on the planet, what moves do you make to stay on top? Do you play it safe and keep making the family films and mildly raunchy PG-13 flicks you’re known for, or do you feel the need to push the envelope and enter the world of hard-R films like The Hangover?
That’s likely the dilemma Adam Sandler is facing these days, after last year saw some of his weakest box-office performances in a decade with Just Go For It just barely crossing the $100 million mark and Jack & Jill falling well short of that following a run that saw film after film of his gross well above both. Jack & Jill was outright, PG-rated family fare despite its frequent fart humor, so perhaps Sandler thought that now was the time to shake it up a little.
And boy has he ever. Sandler’s new movie That’s My Boy pairs him with recent SNL star Andy Samberg as his son, and the combination of Samberg’s youthful energy and fresh direction from Sean Anders in place of Sandler’s long usage of a rotating trio of directors gives the film some real zing.
The problem is, it also is one of the grossest movies of the year, as Sandler obliterates the thin line of decency to create a movie that finds humorous twists in everything from high school teachers seducing their students to the revelation that two major characters are performing incest secretly with regularity Along the way, there is graphic comedic vomiting, a young lady tasting mysterious fluid on her bridal gown only to learn that it’s semen, a morbidly obese stripper who hangs her enormous breasts out of her corset while flipping upside down on a pole while eating breakfast, and the implication that both Sandler’s character and the real-life Vanilla Ice (you read right) both had sex with an elderly woman (well, at least they each acted separately on that one).
The film tells the story of Donny Berger (Sandler), who as a 15-year-old in the late 1980s was seduced by a high school teacher and fathered a child. At first, he became rich and famous by exploiting the attention, but over the years he lost his fortune as well as his son Todd (Samberg), who changed his name and disowned him.
Now, Donny is broke and learns he has to come up with more than $43,000 to meet his debt with the IRS or go to prison, but a reality-TV producer offers him $50,000 to make peace with his son and convince him to visit his mom, the teacher, in prison for a family reunion. Donny has to decide what’s more important—the money or his newfound integrity developed as he tries to bond with his son for real over the son’s wedding weekend. Donny has discovered he does care about his son and wants to remain a part of his new life.
That’s My Boy marks the first R-rated comedy that Sandler has done since taking the reins of his career with Billy Madison in 1995. The film has plenty of laughs if one can stomach a parade of profane talk and raunchy behavior, and Samberg proves that he’s got the goods to carry the lead in a film, as his character is the one human being onscreen who’s written with enough depth to show a range of emotions.
Vanilla Ice (aka Robby Van Winkle) steals the show, however, as he’s revealed to be Samberg’s Uncle Vanny and the high school best friend of Sandler’s character. He has surprising charisma from start to finish and a willingness to go anywhere and do anything for a laugh, which enables Sandler to loosen up and slide into a far more risqué side of himself than usual.
Overall, it somehow produces laughs, even as it makes those laughing feel the need to shower afterward. It feels slapdash, with some scenes vastly superior to others, but overall it feels like the filmmakers threw everything against the wall and saw what stuck. It’s not Oscar material and is definitely not family-friendly, but it’s undeniable that the film frequently works on its own base level.