How Do We Make Statutory Rape Funny?
Why do I go into Adam Sandler movies with the hope that each new offering will be the one that redeems him as an actor, a writer, and a producer? You’d think I was a masochist or delusional or both; although I’ve willingly subjected myself some truly abominable projects of his in the past two years alone, including “The House Bunny,” “Grown Ups,” “Just Go With It,” “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star,” “Zookeeper,” and “Jack and Jill,” I’ve also seen him expand his horizons towards more mature, more compelling endeavors like “Punch Drunk Love,” “Reign Over Me,” and “Funny People.” Hell, he even won me over with “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” which certainly is of the same raunchy, tasteless caliber as most of his other films. He has surprised me before, and I live in hope that he will surprise me again.
I had to keep telling myself that as I sat through his newest film, “That’s My Boy,” in which Sandler doubles as the star and the producer. For him, and for everyone involved, this is a pathetic new low, representative of nothing apart from a desperate plea for attention. With its bizarre blending of disgusting toilet humor and heartfelt moments of drama, it exemplifies a complete lack of understanding on the filmmakers’ part about who the movie was intended for. When you include a scene in which an obese stripper eats an omelet while using her legs to hang upside down from a pole, there is no conceivable way to believably work in a sentimental father/son bonding story. There is only one kind of audience this movie is made for, and I’m fairly certain it will respond more to the stripper than to any depiction of family drama.
The story begins in 1984, when a boy barely in his teens has sex with his hot female teacher, who quite willingly came onto him. They’re eventually caught having sex in the school assembly room while, wouldn’t you know it, a full assembly is in progress. The intent is obvious: To make light of recent news stories about female teachers seducing their male students. But hold on a minute. Imagine if the foundation of the plot had been an adult male teacher seducing his female student. Would we consider that funny? Of course not. We would rightfully think of the girl as a victim. So then why is it funny when the gender roles are reversed? Why is the boy a stud instead of a victim? In either case, this is statutory rape we’re talking about, and the last time I checked, this was not suitable material for a comedy. What we have here is not only a glaring double standard but also a warped sense of humor. The filmmakers should be ashamed of themselves.
The affair resulted in the teacher’s pregnancy, which in turn resulted in a thirty-year prison sentence for her. As for the teen, he was required to become a single parent to his child, a son he named Han Solo, until his eighteenth birthday. Initially, it turned out pretty good for him; he won the respect of his classmates, he became a teenage celebrity, and a TV movie based on his life was produced. But then we flash forward to the present day, at which point we find that the teen has grown into a slovenly, foulmouthed, beer-chugging slacker. His name is Donny Berger (Sandler), and if he wants to avoid a three-year prison sentence, he must pay the IRS $43,000 in back taxes. He strikes a deal with a sleazy talk show host: If he can film Han Solo reuniting with his mother (Susan Sarandon) in prison, he will pay Donny $50,000.
There’s only one problem. Donny’s now adult son (Andy Samberg), who has legally changed his name to Todd Peterson, hasn’t spoken to his father in years and has made every effort to hide his past. Now a hopelessly neurotic diabetic, he has become a successful businessman and is engaged to woman named Christina (Leighton Meester). Donny tracks Todd down through a candid publicity photo, reenters his life the weekend before his wedding, and poses as Todd’s oldest best friend. Even though he has the social skills of a drunk on a bender, Donny is inexplicably able to win over all of Christina’s family. This would include her rather elderly grandmother (Peggy Stewart); not only does Donny masturbate to side-by-side photos of her as a young woman and as she appears today, he will also have sex with her. Yes, she initiates it. And yes, he willingly accepts her advances.
As the plot lumbers ahead, we see James Caan as a priest with a thick Irish brogue and a rotten temper, bear witness to a disgusting and completely unnecessary plot twist involving Christina and her testosterone-pumped military brother (Milo Ventimiglia), and endure a few visual jokes involving vomit and semen. We also watch as Vanilla Ice plays a parody of himself as Donny’s best friend, made all the more unbearable by the fact that he’s actually a pretty decent actor. All the while, we’re expected not to laugh at the phony drama of Donny and Todd working towards repairing their relationship. The people behind “That’s My Boy” make countless mistakes, but the biggest was to believe that this subplot could in any way, shape, or form be taken seriously. I take that back. The biggest mistake was making the film in the first place.