Published Jun 14, 2012Funny People may have been the best thing to happen to Adam Sandler's career and not just because it was one of his strongest performances. Written and directed by long-time friend Judd Apatow, the 2009 film about a bitter comedian featured mock Hollywood productions not far removed from actual Sandler vehicles.
The running joke may have been intended as self-deprecation but it's also been impossible to approach Sandler's films since without thinking that they may be part of a bigger, knowing joke. When he makes a film as conspicuously stupid as last year's Jack and Jill, is Sandler laughing with or at his audience?
That's My Boy is Sandler's first film since Funny People to make a case that he's being sincere. Sandler plays Donny Berger, a washed-up minor celebrity once famous for having had an affair as a teenager with his schoolteacher. The child that Donny fathered (Andy Samberg) is a grown up now, having changed his name from Han Solo to Todd, telling everyone close to him that his parents are dead. Facing jail for tax evasion and offered $50,000 to film a televised reunion with Todd and his mother, Donny decides to crash his son's wedding and reconnect.
The ticking clocks the movie quickly piles on (jail, a TV special, a wedding!) might be to counterbalance the silliness it rolls out thereafter. Former rap-star Vanilla Ice appears as an old friend of Donny's, also dealing with his lost fame, and in one of the film's strongest sequences, the two take charge and turn Todd's bachelor party into a montage of gleeful, random gags. Like the rest of the film, it's heartily R-rated, getting maximum millage out of Sandberg's expertly dry performance as the straight man.
That's My Boy doesn't require a deep reading — either you're the type of person interested in seeing a movie with James Caan and Vanilla Ice in the same cast or you're not — but it seems to be telling a bigger story. Sandler's Donny combines the blue-collar lone wolf he played in Mr. Deeds with the classic rock-tinged nostalgia of Grown-Ups, creating a sort of folksy superhero to combat the cold, upper-class detachment that Todd is about to assimilate with. In another movie, there might be a lesson about accepting the outsider, but That's My Boy uses raunchy humour to distract from its message about the importance of good values.
Sandler knows his audience and, produced by his Happy Madison production company, That's My Boy is made for them. But if you think you stand-alone from that group, this movie suggests the joke may be on you. (Sony)