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That’s My Boy

June 21, 2012
That's My Boy

Adam Sandler managed to rack up a record number of Razzie award nominations last year for his various roles in Just Go With It and Jack and Jill. And with That’s My Boy he continues his power dive into the abyss of bad taste. This time he has some help: Andy Samberg, who filled the same silly, self-satisfied shoes that Sandler had at Saturday Night Live. These two belong together; now if we can just get them to leave the rest of us alone.

I really don’t want to turn this into a snark-fest, though. It’s a cheap tactic, and does anyone really need any convincing that an Adam Sandler movie is going to be trash? The only real question is just how awful it’s going to be (very). And snidely quipping about it with a series of glib one-liners would only mask the disquieting truth: this is extremely popular trash, and it’s designed specifically to drive a wedge between those who enjoy it and those who would hold themselves above it.

We start in 1984, when Donny Berger (Justin Weaver as a child; Sandler as an adult) was seduced by his math teacher (Eva Amurri; Susan Sarandon), leading to a pregnancy and a thirty-year prison term for Ms. McGarricle. As for Donny, he names the kid “Han Solo” Berger and somehow becomes a celebrity instead of a laughingstock, making close friends with the likes of Vanilla Ice (Rob Van Winkle).

Still, thirty years later Donny’s star has fallen more than a little; his kid has vanished and he owes thousands in back taxes with only a weekend to raise it. But the kid shows up in the wedding announcements with his new name, Todd Peterson (Samberg), a successful career as a hedge fund manager, and a beautiful fiancée (Leighton Meester). The wedding is set for this very weekend in Cape Cod, but if Donny can get his son up to the women’s prison for a reunion with his mother, a talk show producer will give him the money he needs.

When Donny shows up at the palatial estate of Todd’s boss — and surrogate father figure — he is not only recognized, but celebrated. At least, celebrated by everyone but Todd and his fiancée. So Todd can’t just blow him off and continue with his own life. And from here it’s just a long, slow grind down to the inevitable end.

The inescapable subtext is that Donny’s lowbrow, lower-class life is actually preferable to Todd’s. This isn’t new; there are strains of the same idea running back to Caddyshack, and even further. But Rodney Dangerfield at least had the country-club straw man put up a fight; Al Czervik is brash and boorish, but he earns his place to be taken seriously by the bluebloods and everyone meets in the middle. Donny Berger is instantly accepted, because obviously all these rich people really want to be him anyway.

The rich, here, are not just stuffy, they’re ridiculously venal. Meanwhile, alcoholism and debauchery are presented as the markers of an upstanding man of the people. When Sandler goes for the full R rating, profanity is punctuation, because that is in and of itself funny, I guess.

This is the cheapest, crassest, laziest approach to comedy since Bucky Larson, and it’s more cynical by far. Not only does it play to the basest parts of the audience, it flatters them for it, telling them that they’re the real, honest, valuable people. It says that those people who profess higher-brow tastes secretly wish to be like them. It says that the upper classes are shockingly, scandalously worse as people, and that social climbing is actually a step backwards. It says that you out there who like this sort of thing, stick to your place; you’re better off there anyway.

It would be easy to play this off as a terrible lowbrow comedy — to point down and smirk at it. But when you start to consider what it’s actually saying you realize that it’s a thunderous salvo of class warfare, and not on the side it might at first appear to be.

Worth It: not at all.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Ilya permalink
    June 21, 2012 19:06

    I have never seen Adam Sandler give a performance that’s less than interesting. Sandler is one of the best actors working today. Have you seen Punch-Drunk Love or Funny People?Those are some of the best pictures of the last decade, in large part due to his performances.

  2. June 21, 2012 19:10

    I have seen them and, frankly, I’m less than impressed. They mostly show that the usual Sandler character is just that — a character — and that he is capable of turning it off sometimes. But just because it’s off doesn’t mean that what remains is any good. Will Ferrell has done far better in his forays away from his comfort zone.

    The exception is Reign Over Me, which was really more carried by Don Cheadle, but which wouldn’t have worked without Sandler.

  3. Ilya permalink
    June 21, 2012 19:36

    I thought Funny People was a remarkable examination of the modern masculine artist in the vein of Hemingway. Its a film that could have been made by Howard Hawks if he was alive today, even though part of the film’s strength is the authentic feel that’s clearly informed by Aptow’s autobiography. Watch the scenes carefully where Sandler and Rogan write comedy together. The way Sandler processes and reacts to Rogan had me convinced that this is exactly how comedy written.

    You should post a list of great films so your readers can get an idea of your tastes. Or how about a list of the 10 best films made between 2000-2009?

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