Sean Anders' That's My Boy, the latest vehicle for Adam Sandler, takes place in a universe stranger than anything seen in Prometheus. It is a blackened place. An oily place. A swirling, Natural Lite-scented miasma of unmasked concupiscence, adolescent fantasy, sexism, and sporting events. It's a universe of ignorant, oversexualized bullies who are congratulated and lionized for their ability to vilify women, fear homosexuals, abuse minorities, mock fat people, and celebrate sexual exploitation. 1980s hair metal and one-hit celebrities are unsarcastically writ large in this universe. Wealth is frowned upon. And good manners. And neuroses. Wholesale, unchecked, drunken ultra-male assh*lery is the deity here. This is a universe wherein a guy who looks like Adam Sandler, sporting a mullet, can stay perpetually bombed on the sh*ttiest possible beer, and still manage to find his way into a hot tub with multiple nameless bikini women, who coo at his handsomeness, rub his oily chest in affection, and seem to be genuinely charmed by this bestial ur-man who openly wags his half-hardened package openly in their faces. No just universe would allow this to happen. That's My Boy takes place in an unjust universe.
To do my critical due diligence, here's a rundown on the film: Sandler plays a once-famous pseudo-celebrity named Donny whose only claim to fame was that he had a sexual affair with one of his teachers (Eva Amurri Matino) in Jr. High School, even though he was barely pubescent. And while the film does rightly send the teacher to prison (the term “statutory rape” is never mentioned), the boy is not ever seen as a victim of a sexual predator. Throughout the film, various males give each other high fives at the boy’s sexual prowess. I would argue that 13-year-olds do not have sexual prowess, and that young Donny was violated, but then I don't live in the universe of That's My Boy. Imagine if the genders had been reversed, and a 28-year-old male teacher had impregnated a 13-year-old girl. There would be no high fives. Or if both the student and the teacher had been men. That's My Boy accentuates and celebrates that sexual double standard. Anyway, Donny's trysts also produced a love child who, years ago, disowned him and is now living in bliss away from his abusive father. Abusive? We learn that Donny tattooed his son when he was 8, was often intoxicated, allowed his son to balloon to 400 lbs., and saddled him with the name of Han Solo. True, this is not wrathful, closed-fist punching, but it could be argued these were forms of abuse and neglect.
Did I mention that Donny is our sympathetic hero?
The son, now played by Andy Samberg, is going by the name of Todd, and is engaged to marry the lovely-and-perfectly-bland Jamie (Leighton Meester). Todd is a bundle of neuroses thanks to his horrible upbringing, and needs a steady regimen of antidepressants to get through the day. When Donny reappears in Todd's life, he is appropriately horrified. Only, since Donny is seen as such a charming and irascible son-of-a-gun, Todd is presented as a wispy wimp, whose neuroses make him a goofy nerd, rather than a damaged human being. All the characters, even his fiancée, openly mock him for his inability to play baseball. Donny, who likes to knock a few back and whack a few rocks is, in contrast, the life of the party. Donny wants Todd to appear on a reality TV show in order to get out of debt (of course he's in debt), which makes for some attempts at bonding, and some vague character overhauls that would feel forced if they were attempting to do anything. By the time Sandler was teaching his estranged son to ride a bike on the night of his bachelor party, Vanilla Ice (playing himself) looking on in wistfulness, the film shifting into its saccharine note, I had to put my head between my knees to catch my breath. How abhorred in my imagination it is. My gorge rises at it.
That's My Boy argues, bafflingly, that's it's Todd who needs to change, and Donny who needs to facilitate the change. I do not accept Donny as the film's hero. He lisps his speech as if constantly drunk, which he is; seriously, he hides beer around the house, keeps bottles on his person at all times, and is never seen not drinking. The word “alcoholic” is never used. Charles Bukowski could stage this guy's intervention. Hunter Thompson would cut him off. Donny is indeed a loathsome human being, cast as a heroic dad whose son cut him off for no good reason. Perhaps Sandler was making some sort of inverted genre exercise with That's My Boy wherein the “villain” and “hero” characters have reversed roles. Later, to add insult to injury, the film goes well out of its way to over-vilify Meester's character, just so Donny can rescue his son from a bad relationship (read: a woman). I'm sorely tempted to give away the twist ending, and only a herculean amount of critical integrity is stopping me.
Not a scene in That's My Boy progresses without an offensive bullying joke made at someone's expense. Asians, fatties, oldies, and ladies. This is not a victimless crime. At least the homophobia was toned down. When classy actors like James Caan and Susan Sarandon show up, you wince, and hope that they make another film quickly just in case they have a horrible accident, and won't have to count That's My Boy as their final acting job. There are a few amusing moments lurking in the film's margins; Milo Ventimiglia really sells his role of a twitchy violent Marine, and I do admire Vanilla Ice for his seemingly unlimited supply of gameness. But as a whole, the film is startlingly ugly.
If, however, you're one of the people who thinks Adam Sandler's recent movies were “kinda funny,” have a blast. I'll be over here weeping softly.