Guilty, With an Explanation
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
Director Sean Anders’s “That’s My Boy” has sent me into hiding, peering from the widow’s walk where, family apocrypha has it, Great Aunt Martha yelled “drat!” when she sighted Great Uncle Melville returning from sea. You see, I was observed to laugh near convulsively at Adam Sandler’s latest foray into bad taste, and I fear reprisal.
Thus, it is only a matter of time before I spot the indignant emissaries from the Ladies League of Human Decency, followed by the accreditation committee of the Evangelical Conference of Film Critics, coming to give me what for…with a vengeance. I am guilty as charged. It was only a matter of time. I’m tired of running. It all began in childhood.
I might as well admit it now, as it’s all bound to be dragged out at the hearing, anyway. I loved Jerry Lewis. Although the iconic wag, considered an artistic genius in France, and socially conservative, would rail at the conclusion, it is my thesis that Mr. Sandler is his comic heir. Just subtract the latter’s filth quotient, and you’ll spot the similarity in shtick.
Both take us to a stage of behavior our parents prayed we’d grow out of one day. Lewis’s persona harks back to the aught years. Showing slight progress, Sandler’s multimillion dollar case of arrested development nostalgically treats us to a rerun of smirky adolescence, perhaps a consolation for having that blankie ripped away from us.
In this instance he is Donny Berger, onetime hero of the supermarket rags courtesy of a nationally exposed, illicit relationship with his 8th grade math teacher, Miss McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino). Skip forward about twenty-five years since the scandalous impropriety. Donny has spent all the money his infamy brought, and the IRS is calling.
Adding insult to injury, the son that emanated from the famed case of statutory rape, now on the eve of his wedding, has long disavowed any relation to his dad. A successful hedge fund wunderkind portrayed by Andy Samberg, he has even changed his name, to Todd Peterson. His lovely intended, Jamie (Leighton Meester), is none the wiser.
Well, you know what happens in the movies when people about to be wed under an assumed identity try to keep it hush-hush. Yep, in a boorish variation on the stunt Eris, the goddess of discord, pulled, Dad shows up just before the nuptials. But shh! He won’t upend Todd’s big fib about being orphaned when Mummy and Pater died in an accident.
Nope, Donny has other plans. He has hatched a scurrilous deal with a reality TV show honcho that’ll net him the $43,000 Uncle Sam is demanding. So he pretends to be Todd’s long lost best friend. However, can he possibly help it if, of course, he becomes an instant favorite of the well wishers who have gathered at Todd’s boss’ manse for the festivities?
As expected, Donny is the catalyst for the en masse lowering of inhibitions among the attendees and the resultant free-for-all that is unleashed. Attesting that the raunchy farce fest, of which this is a prime example, now provides the laughs formerly supplied by the screwball comedies of the 1930’s and ‘40s, it also shares the same philosophical goals.
Stuffy convention, hypocrisy and deception are torn asunder, the layers of false piety peeled like a rotten onion until everyone is pretty much shown for what they are, and then some. This includes the obligatory bachelor party with its truth serum-like effect. Very little is sacred, testing both your grasp of the 1st Amendment and your tolerance for smut.
The obscenities cause one to ponder what is and is not acceptable. In all fairness, there is a subjective scale that weighs the source of the ribaldry. Sandler’s stuff avoids the mean spiritedness of some shock jocks, and he’s at least in good company when he revisits a niche of naughtiness that wrought much wrath for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Philip Roth.
But while there’ll be no plaudits for belles-lettres here, David Caspe’s script does exhibit more thought and creativity than is usually lavished on movies of this caliber. If Damon Runyon took a time machine to the present and decided to go blue, his characters could very well resemble the, uh, Runyonesque sorts who help Mr. Sandler spew his madness.
That means a famous rapper (Vanilla Ice) on the skids, a libidinal octogenarian, a 200 pound pole dancer/confidante named Champale, and a snarky brother of the bride whose sexual proclivities even libertine Donny Berger declares “disgusting.” So, psst! “That’s My Boy” is recommended, but only to the open minded. Just don’t tell anyone I said so.
“That’s My Boy,” rated R, is a Columbia Pictures release directed by Sean Anders and stars Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg and Leighton Meester. Running time: 114 minutes