Thursday, June 21, 2012

Squalor: That's My Boy

When you map out the basic plot elements of an Adam Sandler movie, you generally expect to find a mix of celebrity cameos, odd displays of athleticism, goofy voices, over-the-top implausible concepts, groin injuries, mentions of farts, dick jokes, and forced sentimentality.  While That's My Boy has all of that, it's R-rated aspects traffic not merely in the scatological, but in strange, morally ambiguous territories that seem more like plot points in a Todd Solondz indie drama that a big dumb comedy.  Let's do a quick technical plot breakdown for those of you have been living in blissful ignorance, shall we?  Sandler plays Donny Berger, a guy famous for bedding his hot teacher as a preteen, knocking her up, and gaining custody of their lovechild. Years later, he's a washed-up tabloid star who has found himself owing the IRS quite a bit of money.  So, naturally, he hatches a plan to manipulate the events of his estranged son's (Andy Samberg) wedding to his advantage.  His son hates him, has changed his name (from Han Solo to Todd), and has been struggling to carry on a normal, successful adult life with his fiance (Leighton Meester).  
No big, right?  Just your standard comedy trip with the alcoholic victim of a nationally lauded pedophilia and statutory rape case to blackmail the bastard son whose general health he has already damaged.  Add a bit of incest and some sexual favors in there and you've got That's My Boy.  It's a mean-spirited, impossibly raunchy orgy of family dysfunction that's both the raunchiest and (dare I say it?) the funniest film of Adam Sandler's career.  It's the lowest low and the highest high, and I will admit that I found myself experiencing something I've never really experienced in a Sandler movie: I actually laughed.  More than a few times. Often in spite of myself.  There's a lot to hate here, from the dreadful accents to the broad misogyny inflicted on the female characters (who are all either sex objects or manipulative bitches), and the film's generally predictable trajectory is loaded with scene after idiotic scene.  There's a hungry sort of desperation to the humor that gleefully pushes the comedy beyond the usual kid-friendly slapstick and onto a level of wicked vulgarity so dopey it almost has you fooled.  
It's possible to take it all too seriously.  You can choose to feel sickened by the reality of the teen boy fantasy at play in the opening scenes, you can know that no single night of binge drinking and strippers can patch up the damaged relationship between an unfit dad and his adult son, you can even sense that there's some sort of audience hatred or resent projected from this incarnation of Sandler.  He seems to be staring back at us after a series of PG, braindead fare, asking as he goes through the gross-out motions "Is this what you want?  Is this what you want?"  Maybe that's reading too much into it.  It's just a comedy after all, right?  Just a super fast, upbeat, weirdly dark comedy.  It's not the fall of Rome or anything.  Just go with it.  Accept that all the fancy pants in Cape Cod have been hungering to holler "WHAZZZUP" and know that it could be so, so, so much worse.  Hey, at least Vanilla Ice is getting a second chance here, right?

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