Just in time for Father's Day, Adam Sandler gives us a dad who makes Ivan the Terrible look great by comparison.
We fathers can be an insecure lot.
As our children grow, we wonder (in the quiet confines of our cars or cubicles or man caves) whether we've done enough for our kids: Are we too strict? Not strict enough? Are we spending enough time with them? Are we preparing them adequately for the future? Should we really have grounded them for wearing flip-flops (after we specifically told them not to)?
So perhaps we owe Adam Sandler a tip o' the cap for portraying a father who makes dads—almost all dads, really, even ones in prison for war crimes—look like Ward Cleaver.
Sandler's Donny Berger became a father at the age of 13, thanks to a dalliance with his teacher. So while the teacher's sent to prison for a good 30 years, Donny and (at least for a while) his own abusive pop raise little Han Solo Berger as only they can: That is, not very well.
Fast-forward 27 years. Han's going by the name Todd these days and has done pretty well for himself—snagging a pretty office, pretty salary and pretty fiancée. Donny, meanwhile, is just pretty messed up. After living for years on the sordid fame his hookup brought him, the bottom's dropped out and he doesn't even know where his next beer is coming from. His best friend is an overweight stripper. His haircut looks like 1980s-eraWham! meets 2010s-era weed whacker. And since he neglected to pay his taxes for the last several years ($43,000 worth), it looks like Donny could be going to prison too.
There's just one way Donny can make that sort of money quickly: arrange a reunion of sorts with his one-time teacher and little Han—er, Todd—on the sleaziest talk show he can scrounge up. Easy enough, right?
Well, it would be easy if Todd didn't hate publicity. And if Todd didn't hate his father. And if Todd hadn't been passing himself off as an orphan all these years.
And, oh yeah, the interview's the day before Todd's wedding day, which means that after years of being incommunicado, Donny will be crashing the biggest weekend of his son's life. That shouldn't be a problem … should it?
Donny loves Todd (though less like a father and more like a tapeworm that's feeling all warm and cuddly after infesting someone's digestive tract). Todd grows to appreciate and love his father too (though less like a son and more like a lemming, ready to follow his pappy off the nearest cliff).
Oh, and Donny teaches Todd how to ride a bike. (We'll overlook for the moment that they co-opt a little girl's bike in the early hours of the morning when both of them are incredibly drunk … and that Todd crashes the little girl's bike into a parked car, sending him flying like a wobbly Frisbee.)
We see Donny, as a boy, at a synagogue reading a portion of the Torah for the congregation. His soon-to-be infamous teacher is in a pew, making visual signs that allude to oral sex. (And the rabbi gleefully thinks her crudity is directed at him.)
Todd, his fiancée, Jamie, and the rest of the wedding party visit a church to meet with Father McNally, the priest they've hired to marry them. Things get ugly, words are exchanged, then fists, as Todd and the priest clash over their attitudes toward their respective fathers. We learn that McNally joined the priesthood after killing a man in the boxing ring. And when he knocks out another guy later in the film, Donny suggests he lose the collar. He does.
After fighting McNally, one of Todd's friends tells him that "Sorry's not going to save your from burning in hell."
If Adam Sandler was given a dime for every sexual theme, act, reference and sight gag in That's My Boy, he'd either be on his way to Tahiti ('cause he'd have enough money to buy it) or on his way to China ('cause the weight of all those coins would crack through the earth's crust). And if I wrote it all down here, you would pay me quite a few of those dimes to avoid having to read it. Even a summary will be difficult to digest:
As noted, the movie's premise hangs on a 13-year-old boy's sexual relationship with his teacher—some of which we witness. We see the unbuttoning of blouses, the mutual chewing of the same piece of gum, crass notes on tests and covered-up erections. They carry on deeply inappropriate conversations.
The relationship is discovered when the two have sex in the junior high's auditorium during a school assembly. They're initially behind the curtain; when they're exposed, the teacher wraps herself in a flag and skitters offstage while the boy buttons his pants and, hearing the cheers from his fellow students (and some teachers), raises his arms in triumph.
He becomes an instant celebrity, and a few resulting magazine covers depict him making obscene gestures. As an adult, people often talk to Donny about the fantasies or experiences they had with their own teachers—most of them involving explicit and disturbing uses of sexual organs.
The plot further turns on Jamie's incestuous relationship with her younger brother, Chad. Donny catches them in the middle of intercourse in a hotel room. (Both are obviously naked. We see her from the back, waist up, and Chad's rear.)
Donny spends much of his time at a strip club, and he takes Todd and the male members of the wedding party to the club for a bachelor party. There we see bare-breasted dancers, lewd gyrating and all manner of salaciously sordid behavior. There are intimations of masturbation, performances of vaginal "circus tricks" and oral sex. One grimy joke involves the overweight stripper.
Masturbation doesn't just come up at the strip club. Donny masturbates while looking at an old picture of Jamie's Grandma Delores, littering his bedroom with tissues. Todd ejaculates on Jamie's wedding dress. And there's so much more: We see and hear frequent references to oral sex, mutual masturbation, adultery, prostitution and bodily fluids. Delores has sex with both Donny and rapper Vanilla Ice. A guy walks around naked, his penis covered only with a sock. Donny cavorts with bikini-clad women, impressing them with his boxer-clad nether regions. And to try to generalize as much as possible, there are many, many, many situations and conversations that revolve around the male anatomy. Breasts are fondled. One of Donny's childhood friends declares himself gay.
As mentioned, Todd fights with the priest. He also wrestles with Chad. Both altercations end when Donny hits his son's assailants on the back of the head with a bottle. Jamie chases after someone with a knife. (She too is knocked out by Donny and his bottle.)
During a drunken night of revelry, Donny, Todd and others are repeatedly chased, shot at and threatened with physical harm. They throw themselves down bowling alleys to knock down pins with their heads. Todd's Tasered by prison guards. Donny and Vanilla Ice break a glass table. Ice falls over a high wall. We see Donny's father punch him in the mouth when he's a kid. Donny pierces Todd's ear, smearing blood across his cheek and neck. He invents an elaborate—and gory—story about an explosion that killed Todd's parents.
Crude or Profane Language
About 150 f-words. More than 40 s-words. We hear "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑" and "p‑‑‑," along with about 30 misuses of God's name (sometimes paired with "d‑‑n") and one or two abuses of Jesus' name. Middle fingers get a workout.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Donny seems physically incapable of doing anything without a beer in his hand, and he's proud about not spilling when he's knocked to the floor. He, Todd and others get mind-numbingly drunk during Todd's bachelor party.
They also smoke from a huge bong. When Donny's lawyer asks him if he's back on drugs, he says, "Yeah." In a cameo, former Diff'rent Strokes star Todd Bridges shows up with a dusting of cocaine on his nose. (In real life, Bridges has long battled an addiction to crack cocaine, and was tried and acquitted for the attempted murder of a dealer.) References are made to pot (multiple times), blow and Quaaludes. Todd takes drugs to control his anxiety, telling Jamie, "I always double down when your parents are in town."
Other Negative Elements
Todd throws up after his drunken bachelor party. Celebrants urinate on a restaurant's wall and windows. Vanilla Ice pretends he's a fountain while he's (apparently) urinating all over himself. There's talk of soiling one's pants … and then we see it happen too.
Several racial putdown are uttered. Chad pretends to be a Marine.
I had always been under the impression that comedies were supposed to be, y'know, funny.
But after watching That's My Boy, I'm wondering if my definition is wrong. Perhaps laughter has little to do with comedy. Perhaps—at least in this most recent Adam Sandler iteration—comedy is supposed to make you gasp and groan and perhaps gag … not giggle. I heard far more expressions of "ewww" and "ick" than any hearty chortles or guffaws in the screening I attended.
I have a difficult time accepting that statutory rape is inherently funny. I have a difficult time finding the humor in a brother and sister having an ongoing sexual affair. Is the sight of a washed-up celebrity—now sadly best-known for a drug problem—with a coating of coke on his nose hilarious? Or masturbating to a picture of someone's grandmother? Or watching one wretchedly ruined individual drag another down to his level?
In That's My Boy, Adam Sandler is presumably showing us what he thinks is funny. But I personally don't know anyone who's laughing. "Even with 87.5 years to go, the 21st century may never see a stupider comedy than That's My Boy, writes Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips. "Sandler has made worse movies, but never one as grotesque as this," adds Roger Moore of the McClatchy-Tribune News Service.
"Did you happen to notice that I created a whole fake life just to get away from you?" Todd asks his father. I'd recommend doing exactly the same thing if it'll get you away from this movie.