He makes roughly one movie per year, but only die hard fans seem to care. Critics often complain that his good years are behind him, which is ironic since his best movie in the last decade focuses on the foolishness of living in the past.
But enough about Woody Allen and "Midnight in Paris."
Adam Sandler's back in theaters with "That's My Boy," a dirty, R-rated comedy that would rank alongside "Happy Gilmore" and "Billy Madison" if you were still 17 years old. Naturally, critics have skewered Sandler like he's a war criminal. "Even with 87.5 years to go, the 21st century may never see a stupider comedy than 'That's My Boy,'" snarked Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips.
In "That's My Boy," Sandler plays Donny Berger, a Massachusetts man who became famous in the '80s for fathering a child with his teacher (Eva Amurri Martino, Susan Sarandon's daughter). About that: "That's My Boy" uses statutory rape as the basis for a comedy. (If the genders were switched, "That's My Boy" probably wouldn't exist ... or it would be directed by Todd Solondz.) It's a weird twist -- and a bridge too far for some -- but the opening scenes are only the tip of the iceberg. The sexual peculiarities in "That's My Boy" make Penthouse Forum look like Reader's Digest. This thing is filthy and fitfully hilarious, and while some of the jokes don't hit -- poor Leighton Meester is shown licking something she really shouldn't be licking, and that's only the beginning of her debasement; xoxo, Blair -- there's a level of commitment to raunch that's almost revelatory in the way it evades morality. "That's My Boy" is like Tom Cruise in "Rock of Ages": Whether or not it works is beside the point; you have to admire the attempt.
You also have to laugh, and not just because "That's My Boy" is often very funny. The film indulges in '80s and '90s nostalgia in ways that the aforementioned jukebox musical adaptation can only dream. ("That's My Boy" actually starts with "Rock of Ages" by Def Leppard.) In "Midnight in Paris," Allen held up Ernest Hemingway as a reminder of the grass-is-greener past; in "That's My Boy," Sandler uses Vanilla Ice.
Nostalgia plays a big role in "That's My Boy," both with the action onscreen and for the viewer in the audience. Donny is a mess -- a failure who didn't live up to the fame, fortune and promise of his wild teenage years. He's stuck in a state of arrested development, making the same jokes he did when he was younger, often with the same friends. Like Gil in "Midnight in Paris," Donny spends the movie wishing things could be like they once were, and does whatever he can to make that possible.
Meanwhile, in the audience, you might be feeling the same thing. There's an argument to be made that "That's My Boy" is the best quintessential "Adam Sandler movie" in last 15 years. All those 30-something males who wore out their VHS tapes of "Happy Gilmore" and "Billy Madison" will happily laugh along at this one. Whether that's good or not, of course, is up for debate. Writing for Grantland, Steven Hyden posits that Sandler's films are actually a mirror for the audience. That "That's My Boy" is his "mid-life crisis movie."
It could go on like this for years, decades even: After the kids move out, after retirement, after the nursing home. And the people who once laughed at Adam Sandler movies, and did Adam Sandler voices with their knucklehead friends, and wished they could be like Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore -- they will eventually ask themselves, "What in the hell was I thinking?" Then, finally, Adam Sandler can look back and say, "All right, that about sums it up."
Except it doesn't need to go on for years. "That's My Boy" should already make you ask questions about your relationship with Sandler. People cite "Funny People" as his cry for help, a sad-clown feature that showed the real man behind the stupid characters. Well, "That's My Boy" is that film's brother in arms. We've been wanting a return of the "old Sandler"; now that guy is back. The problem is that he brought with him a movie featuring a subplot about incest played for laughs. What does the fact that this movie was made say about us? What do we want from Sandler?
"Nostalgia is denial -- denial of the painful present," Michael Sheen's snobby faux villain says in "Midnight in Paris." "The name for this denial is golden-age thinking -- the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in. It's a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present."
Or, as Donny would say, "Wassssssssup!"
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