Before watching That's My Boy, I recalled the words of English film critic Raymond Durgnat, who once claimed that whenever he had to review something like the 1959 musical Li'l Abner, he "was out to show that there are more meanings in ordinary meanings — of the shallow type required for entertainment — than usually spotted by critics, who imagine that only important art can involve people and make poetic and ideological points." Durgnat's words didn't help me this time. That's My Boy is one of the worst films I've ever seen, a frightening glimpse into a creative abyss that has no discernible bottom. Nevertheless, I left the theater with several questions:
First, is the hyperbolic working-class Boston accent of Adam Sandler's statutory-rape victim-cum-deadbeat dad Donny Berger more or less grating than the ones he concocted for the characters of Bobby Boucher in 1998's The Waterboy and Nicky in 2000's Little Nicky? And speaking of grating, is New York Jets coach Rex Ryan's turn as a New England Patriots-loving attorney supposed to endear him more to Patriots fans, Jets fans, or the guys over at kissingsuzykolber.com? And how tough was it to assemble the other members of That's My Boy's eccentric supporting cast, which includes Tony Orlando, James Caan, Susan Sarandon, Milo Ventimiglia, and several Saturday Night Live pals? Is Sandler such a good guy that nobody thinks twice before agreeing to work with him?
And what are we to make of the Madden-like hex that has struck several of the lead actresses in his films, who, as critic Glen Kenny has pointed out, are often "the female recipient of the Sandler Career Curse," a list that includes (so far) Joey Lauren Adams, Fairuza Balk, Winona Ryder, and Kate Beckinsale? Did Leighton Meester even think about this possibility before signing on to play a bride-to-be with a truly disturbing skeleton in her closet?
If comedies are allowed to abandon realism for the sake of a joke, then how much realism is necessary for any given comic premise to work? In other words, if an aging, overweight stripper is seen eating her breakfast onstage, then is it safe to assume that she's done this before? And if so, why hasn't she figured out that she shouldn't drink anything when she's hanging upside-down on the pole? And what are the beer and liquor bottles that Sandler uses to knock his enemies unconscious made of, anyway?
Does every male in America concoct and cherish elaborate sex fantasies about a female teacher that they can recount in distressing detail with only the slightest prompting? Is the statutory rape of a student by a teacher ever acceptable and funny? Or does it become relatively acceptable and funny when it's compared to something like incest? And if nothing is sacred in comedy, does the same thing apply to music? In a film buzzing with hair-metal hits from the 1980s, how did the Replacements' "Unsatisfied" sneak in? And why do I find this choice more offensive than anything else in this wretched, exhausted, unfunny debacle?
That's My Boy