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That’s My Boy
Directed by Sean Anders
Screenplay by David Caspe
Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester
How long is That’s My Boy? 114 minutes.
What is That’s My Boy rated? R for crude sexual content throughout, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use.
For Adam Sandler, ‘R’ Stands for Redundant
That’s My Boy is the first ‘Adam Sandler Movie’ rated R. Noting that there’s a difference between a movie starring Adam Sandler and an ‘Adam Sandler Movie,’ this is an odd departure because Sandler is one of the few film comedians who usually stays within the PG-13 realm. Since the mid-2000s, most film comedies thankfully bare the ‘R’ label. For someone like Sandler, whose work plays more towards the juvenile, this is a curious move. Especially considering that the major difference between this and the rest of Sandler’s oeuvre is extra four letters words and a couple of naked breasts.
A follow-up to the legendarily catastrophic Jack and Jill, That’s My Boy is not as terrible as the previous work. However, while the fraternal twin comedy suffered from egregious underplotting, That’s My Boy suffers from excessive overplotting. The movie throws in practically every cliché — the “I need $X or else I’ll go to jail,” the betrayal, the redemption (technically 2 redemptions), a wedding, the zany side characters, the comic set pieces, the reconnecting with his son, the needless villain — to create an overlong, 114 minute film.
A problem with That’s My Boy, and with many other Adam Sandler movies, is the way it tries to balance over-the-top humor with heart. This can be done, but Sandler has difficulty accomplishing it because he plays the comedic moments too broad and the “serious” moments too legitimately. While he might throw in something silly like Vanilla Ice racing with him to stop a wedding, the story still feels as formulaic and passionless as a bad romantic comedy. This is probably the biggest flaw with his later movies, especially when you consider how superior and better paced comedies such as this year’s The Dictator and Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie understand how to play around with these tropes and integrate humor into them.
That’s My Boy opens with a teenaged Donny Berger (thankfully not played by a CGI’ed Adam Sandler) having a sexual affair with his high school teacher Ms. McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino, later Susan Sarandon in one of the movie’s cleverest gags) that leads to the birth of their son — Han Solo Berger. With Ms. McGarricle put in prison, the idiotic and immature Berger becomes a national celebrity throughout the 1980s for his antics, but whose fame has died down by the time the movie starts. Having to pay thousands of dollars in back taxes or else go to prison, Berger attempts to reconnect with his wayward son whom he hasn’t spoken to in years. His son, meanwhile, has set up a nice life for himself by changing his name to the milquetoast Todd Peterson and becoming a nerdy, unassuming rising star in the financial industry. He is planning to marry his girlfriend Jamie (Leighton Meester) in a couple of days. They are staying at his boss’ house for the wedding, Donny shows up, and hijinx ensue.
In his first major starring role since Hot Rod, Samberg turns in a decent performance. He appears natural on screen, and while some of that might have to do with him playing the straight man to Sandler, he actually inhabits the character — both as a bland paper pusher and also when he gets to be outrageous. Sandler, on the other hand, simply does not seem comfortable as Donny Berger. Despite being a genuine movie star for over a decade, the Billy Madison lead gives viewers the impression that he’s always aware that he’s Adam Sandler in a wig. Goofy accent aside, there’s an insecurity to the role that takes away from the entire movie.
Also disappointing is the lack of chemistry between Samberg and Sandler. You never get the sense that they can riff off one another. For two actors who had their starts on Saturday Night Live, you’d expect the film to have at least some improv-y moments where the two are going, or appearing to go, off script and just trying to be funny or make the other laugh. It’s this type of non-scripted relationship that has made the Judd Apatow and Will Ferrell movies so successful, and which is utterly lacking in That’s My Boy — and most Sandler movies for that matter. Everything appears very calculated, and the film loses the manicness needed to make comedies work. Additional SNL alum that appear include Ana Gasteyer, Rachel Dratch, the underappreciated Will Forte, and Colin “Best Tweeter Ever” Quinn; none of whom have much to work with either.
The two elements that work the best in this movie are Donny as a local legend and the power of a magnetic personality. While we’re used to seeing the unkempt rogue forcing the uptight squares to cut loose, by putting Donny in conflict with Todd, That’s My Boy shows how Donny could survive for years since his fame died. People believe Donny’s obvious lies and accept him because he is meant to have a conman/scumbag’s likeability. The scenes of the fuddy duddies getting drunk and going crazy at a strip club aren’t nearly as interesting as the way Donny commands a room and Todd immediately falls under the shadow of his old man.
But is That’s My Boy funny? Depends. Do you like ‘Adam Sandler Movies’? Despite the R rating, That’s My Boy is your conventional ‘Adam Sandler Movie.’ You get all the characters you’d expect from one of his films — the crazy relative, the old sex-charged lady, really old people, Nick Swardson — but nothing new or interesting is done with them. Admittedly, That’s My Boy has a few laughs — around 10 mild-to-okay ones by my personal count, significantly more gauging the audience reaction — so I assume that fans of ‘Adam Sandler Movies’ will enjoy That’s My Boy and maybe even appreciate the additional ribaldry. Just don’t go in expecting anything different.