By Linc Leifeste | June 14, 2012
Director: Sean Anders
Writer: David Caspe
Starring: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester, Vanilla Ice, James Caan, Milo Ventimiglia, Blake Clark, Meagen Fay, Tony Orlando, Will Forte, Rachel Dratch, Peggy Stewart, Luenell, Eva Amurri Martino, Dan Patrick
“80 percent of success is showing up.” The brilliant director, writer and actor Woody Allen said that. Maybe. Or maybe it was something close to that; maybe it was 90 percent of success or 80 percent of life. In truth, the exact details and source don’t matter as much as the truth of the sentiment. If not Allen, someone would have had to utter the phrase. It’s a sentiment that I’ve heard and thought about many times in life and one that popped into my head while walking out of the theater after screening That’s My Boy, the latest offering from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company. I was wondering what it means when the ante is upped and showing up becomes 100 percent of life, or in the case of Sandler 100 percent of success.
There was a time that Adam Sandler was young and somewhat funny. Maybe that’s a bit harsh; I’ve heard that his early stand-up was hilarious. After a successful run on Saturday Night Live in the mid-90’s, he found his niche making comedy films that were commercially successful and moderately funny if not particularly thoughtful. With films like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, Sandler established himself as the king of lowbrow but relatively good-natured comedic stupidity. And who could blame him? He was young, making money and pleasing his large fan base. But as the years and the films ticked by (The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy, Big Daddy, Little Nicky), Sandler wasn’t getting any younger and his films weren’t getting any fresher.
Seemingly showing some signs of self-awareness, Sandler started mixing it up a little bit, taking a few steps outside of his normal routine. Sure there were missteps (Reign Over Me) but there were also pleasant surprises (Punch Drunk Love). Disappointingly he soon enough returned to the perpetually safe territory of lame rom-coms and increasingly less comedic comedies until he started to look and sound like a middle-aged caricature of himself (while also looking more and more like an 80’s Bob Dylan) as his films became virtually unwatchable. So to say That’s My Boy is a slight improvement over Sandler’s most recent fare isn’t saying much, simply that it could somehow be worse.
When the film opens we find Donny Berger (Adam Sandler) to be a sad-sack washed up middle-aged Massachusetts party boy, running on the fumes of past celebrity, on the verge of arrest by the IRS for unpaid taxes unless he can come up with $43,000. To make matters even bleaker, Donny’s faded celebrity is based on his teenage sexual affair with his junior high math teacher, Miss McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino), an affair that lasted until it was made public at a school assembly and an affair that resulted in a son, named Han Solo Berger by young Donny. “Raised” by Donny, Han left home as soon as he turned eighteen and Donny hasn’t heard of him since.
Without any real options to generate quick money, upon conveniently discovering that Han is now a successful hedge-fund manager going by the name of Todd (Andy Samberg channeling his inner Michael Cera), Donny cuts a deal with trash TV talk-show host Randall Morgan (Dan Patrick) to put together an on-camera reunion between himself, Todd and McGarricle at the women’s prison where she’s currently serving out her sentence for a quick cool $50K. Of course he first has to find a way to inject himself back into Todd’s life and talk him into going along with the scheme.
Donny finds Todd, a neurotic and timid young man, staying at the Cape Cod home of his boss Steve (Tony Orlando), where he’s days away from marrying his domineering girlfriend Jamie (Leighton Meester). When Donny shows up unannounced carrying his trash-bag laundry and with beer in hand, Todd is clearly unpleasantly surprised and with everyone believing his parents are both dead, comes up with a story about Donny being his long-lost best friend. Despite his trashy appearance, ever-present beer in hand and constant dick jokes, Donny somehow manages to win over everyone he comes in contact with and soon has replaced Phil (Will Forte) as the best man, much to the dismay of Todd.
As Donny slowly starts to win over the slightest adoration of his son he himself comes to the realization of what a terrible father he’s been and begins to see how inappropriate his plans for a televised family reunion actually are. But his arrival has set events in motion that are not so easily stopped and the reunion happens regardless, quickly ending any reconciliation that was in the offing, at least until Donny discovers that all is not kosher with Jamie and decides he has to do the fatherly thing and save his son from a disastrous marriage.
With That’s My Boy, Sandler has made by far his raunchiest, crassest and crudest comedy yet. It’s the kind of film that throws everything at the viewer and occasionally inspires laughter, albeit the kind of laughter that you immediately second guess. Obese stripper? Check. Masturbation? Yep. Incest? It’s in there, along with generous servings of bodily fluids, booze, adultery, f-bombs, statutory rape, three-ways with a geriatric grandmother, a stripper in a halo brace providing oral sex to a married man in public…I think you get the picture. Oh, and Vanilla Ice, there’s a generous helping of Vanilla Ice.
I’ll admit it, I laughed. And not infrequently. But as the credits rolled I found myself shaking my head, the lingering impression not so much comedic as despondent, feeling like Adam Sandler has gotten old. Old and tired. There are scenes where I swear I noticed Adam Sandler fighting laughter but I can’t decide if he was laughing at himself or at us. I can’t help but wonder what the young Adam Sandler of the mid-90’s would think of this version of himself, with his sagging cheeks and growing mid-section, who appears to be just phoning it in. And that’s something that’s probably equally true for many of us. Give him credit, intentionally or not, Sandler has inspired me to think about the dangers of getting comfortable, of letting yourself go, of doing nothing more than the minimum of simply showing up.