Movie Review: That's My Boy
By Matthew Huntley
June 25, 2012
There is a scene of unconscionable disgust in That’s My Boy that I’d like to share with you. It involves the fiancée of Todd Petersen, the movie’s title character. She wakes up in horror to find her wedding dress stained with vomit, and then notices a white, sticky substance on top of that. So what does she do? At first, she sniffs it, and then proceeds to taste it, realizing only seconds later what the audience already knew.
Such a scene exists only to gross us out, which it accomplishes all too easily, and for what? Okay, so we’re grossed out, but we’re not laughing. Maybe if the fiancée had tasted it by accident and didn’t proclaim out loud what it is, it might have been amusing. You see, it’s a lot more funny when characters are unaware something is gross, not when they intentionally make it that way. Besides, would anyone in their right mind really taste such a stain, especially when it could be you know what? It’s not only disgusting, but completely unbelievable.
This scene illustrates the core problem with That’s My Boy: it goes for cheap, lazy comedy instead of the clever, inspired kind. Not that we’re terribly surprised - it stars Adam Sandler, who’s not exactly known for his high standards or originality, or being funny.
I say this, and yet part of me refrains from being too hard on the movie. Why? Because despite its lowbrow hijinks and ceaseless vulgarity, it did make me laugh (at least some of the time), and because the movie makes it abundantly clear its only ambitions are to be lowbrow and vulgar. Of course, it mixes in its fair share of contrived sentimentality and plot devices, but what saves it from being an all-out abomination are the characters, who are actually sweet and likable. They’re loud, outrageous and despicable, sure, but they’ve also got heart, and they keep the movie afloat.
Sandler plays Donny Berger, who became an overnight teen sensation in the mid-1980s after he impregnated his eighth grade teacher, Miss McGarricle (Eva Amurri). She was sentenced to 30 years in jail and he was forced to raise their son on his own, whom he named Han Solo. Nearly 30 years later, the shamed son (Andy Samberg) has run off and changed his name to Todd Petersen, while Donny has squandered all his past earnings. He’s stuck in a state of arrested development, ‘80s style, driving around in a Pontiac Fiero with “Rush” spray painted across the hood; donning a worn out jean jacket; and listening to his “totally awesome mix” on cassette tape.
Incidentally, and because the movie needed a plot, Donny’s accountant informs him he owes $43,000 in back taxes to the IRS and he’ll go to jail if he doesn’t pay it in the next four days. That’s when he discovers his son is a big shot businessman, but instead of asking him for the money, Donny seeks out his old TV producer-friend, Randall Morgan (Dan Patrick), who agrees to pay Donny $50,000 if he can convince Todd to reunite with his mother live on television from her jail cell.
So Donny crashes his son’s wedding weekend at his boss’s extravagant beach house on the coast of Massachusetts. Because Todd already lied to his fiancée, Jamie (Leighton Meester), along with her parents (Blake Clark and Meagan Fay) and brother (Milo Ventimiglia), by telling them his parents died in a horrific explosion, Donny assumes the role of Todd’s best friend. Thus, the ruse begins, and Donny, who always has a spare beer handy, quickly becomes the life of the party and is deemed best man. Todd, meanwhile, carries around an extra pair of underwear and pops a Xanax at the first sign of anxiety. He becomes the butt of Donny’s jokes and inevitably gets exposed as a wuss. But Donny comes to his rescue and decides to play Dad, leading to the foregone conclusion the two will eventually bond.
Underneath all the erection, masturbation, urination, strip club, beer guzzling and pot-smoking scenes, many of which involve Vanilla Ice (cheerfully playing himself), That’s My Boy tries to invoke a fair amount of sincerity. This would have been too much to take had Donny been depicted as mean or hateful, but Sandler makes him jolly and big-hearted, and so we accept it. It makes a big difference in a movie like this when we have affection for the characters instead of animosity. That also applies to Samberg, who exists mostly to take punches - quite literally, as he gets into a fist fight with an Irish priest played by James Caan - and while he won’t be winning any acting awards any time soon, he shows he can be a good sport.
That’s My Boy is stupid, mindless and often tasteless (do we really need to see all the men from Todd’s bachelor party urinating on the side of a restaurant?), but it’s intentionally these things, and it’s not so offensive that it’s intolerable. That shouldn’t be interpreted as praise, and it’s far from a recommendation, but I’d be lying if I said the movie didn’t make me laugh or smile some of the time. I can appreciate obscene, vulgar comedy when it’s done well, but the problem with That’s My Boy is it feels one-note and doesn’t given the characters anything interesting to say or do, or at least anything we haven’t seen before. I’m reminded of Bad Santa, another vulgar comedy. The difference between that film and this one is it had a dark, funny and complex character at its center (played by Billy Bob Thornton); it also had a witty screenplay we really got into. That’s My Boy has a likable character at its center, but there’s not much to him and, save for a few laughs, there’s not much to the movie, either.