That’s My Boy opens with an uncomfortable scene. A cocksure seventh grader wants to take his twentysomething teacher out to see a Van Halen concert. So he makes a rather crude pitch to her in the hallway of his junior high school right in front of two of his friends. Naturally, she rebuffs him and orders him to detention.
What little Donny Berger doesn’t realize is that Miss McGarricle, the object of his affection, is already in lust with him. In an even more uncomfortable scene, she starts unbuttoning her top and making inappropriate remarks about how good he looks in his basketball uniform right there in detention in the presence of one of those same friends. (He’s only 12, for Christ’s sake. Get a grip, lady!) Next thing he knows, she’s leading him by the hand into another room to take advantage of him sexually. Numerous “Oh my Gods!” follow.
Now imagine how those same two scenes would’ve played if the ballsy student was a 12-year-old girl and the even bolder teacher was a grown man. I’m not sure the audience, particularly the males, would react in quite the same way. If my reaction to the original situation is any indication, however, my feelings would probably remain unchanged. I would still be completely creeped out, not to mention confused.
One of the biggest annoyances of That’s My Boy (and there are many) is the utter mystery that is Miss McGarricle. Why would this beautiful young woman throw herself at such an obnoxious little shit like this? Is she that hard up for a date? Is this her first inappropriate student-teacher relationship? More importantly, is she even single? The movie never bothers to give her any kind of a back story.
At any event, their sexual affair intensifies and grows more absurd. A quick montage reveals her complete lack of discretion: a sexual gesture at a synagogue here, a randy comment on a school assignment there. Inevitably, their not-so-secret entanglement becomes completely exposed at, of all things, a student council election assembly. A kid trying to sell himself as a possible contender is interrupted by Miss McGarricle’s rather loud praising of her young lover’s skills. (To be fair, the student council nominee gets off a funny throwaway line about this.) It isn’t until the stage curtains are opened that the entire student body clues in.
That leads to a completely phony reaction where, after the initial moment of shock passes, the packed auditorium erupts into one collective cheer as the kids and even a number of the teachers show their mass approval for Donny’s “conquest”. In reality, wouldn’t this scene result in a lot of laughter, finger-pointing and even mean-spirited chants (“Teacher fucker! Teacher fucker!”)? And wouldn’t Donny’s overinflated self-esteem come crashing down to earth as he would be mercilessly mocked for the rest of his time in this school?
Regardless, Miss McGarricle’s teaching career is over as she faces a not-at-all-believable, not to mention overly excessive 30-year prison sentence. (I suspect this was done purely for casting reasons. The young woman who plays her in 1984 is the daughter of the ageless older woman who plays her in the present day.) Even worse, she’s pregnant. (Mary Kay LeTourneau would be so proud.) Donny’s unseen abusive father is awarded custody until his boorish son turns 18. Another brilliant decision by the court.
In the meantime, Donny basks in his newfound fame: red carpets, talk show appearances, magazine covers, even a TV-movie based on his life. But many years later, he’s become a rather painful joke. Now played by a Boston-accented Adam Sandler (who appears to be channelling the gravelly oversexed demeanour of Artie Lange without the laughs and is stuck in the hard rock mix tape era of the 80s), he’s flat broke and on the verge of incarceration.
He’s given two options: bet on “the fat fuck”, an 8000 to 1 longshot in an upcoming marathon (do gamblers really bet on running?), or get back in touch with his estranged son, Han Solo Berger, and hope he’ll fork over the $43000 he owes in back taxes. If the IRS doesn’t get paid this amount in a few days Donny will be in prison the day after Memorial Day.
The kid’s good for it. He works in hedge funds now and is very close to becoming a partner at his company, as long as his boss Tony Orlando gives him the promotion. (There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.)
Played by the otherwise likeable SNL alumnus Andy Samberg (who is thoroughly wasting his time here), Han is a complete mess thanks to all those years spent with his permanently immature father. Painfully awkward in social situations and deeply dependent on Xanax, he’s so paranoid about having an accidental bowel movement (thanks to an embarrassing incident from his childhood) he always carries around a clean pair of briefs just in case. Even losing a contact lense freaks him out. On the plus side, he’s no longer 400 pounds. (Nutrition wasn’t Donny’s bag.)
Donny is able to track him down because Han’s fiance (Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester) is heavily publicizing their upcoming wedding. Too proud to actually beg him for the 43 Gs directly, the teacher fucker tries a different tactic before going to visit him at his boss’ summer home. He convinces a sleazy Donahue-type talk show host (ESPN’s Dan Patrick in a silly white wig) to do a reunion show involving himself, Han and the still incarcerated Miss McGarrigle at her womens’ prison. (Donny was originally a guest on his show at the height of his fame back in the 80s.) Patrick will fork over $50000 for the stunt but not before everybody signs release forms in order for the footage to be used on his show.
Because Han has now changed his name to Todd Pederson (so Donny wouldn’t find him) and is claiming to be an orphan (so no one bothers him about his absent parents), when his dad arrives uninvited to his boss’ summer home Donny pretends to be his best friend. How anyone doesn’t notice or even bothers to comment on the remarkable physical similiarities between Samberg and Sandler is particularly strange. Anyone with even half a brain would know “Todd” hasn’t been completely honest with them.
Sandler’s character is not exactly a charmer and yet, in most of his interactions with Samberg’s wedding guests, his unabashed coarseness wins them over instantaneously. (As a result, he ends up sticking around for a while.) Consider the scene where he’s hobknobing with a bunch of bikini-clad babes in Orlando’s hot tub. When he gets up to take a call, he has a very noticable erection. None of them have a problem with this and titter amusingly. Or the scene where Orlando’s elderly mother discovers that he’s been repeatedly masturbating to two photos of her (one recent and one from her youth when she modelled an old-school bathing suit for Woolworth’s). She ends up going to bed with him.
Meanwhile, no one likes poor Han whose unintentionally awkward remarks achieve the exact opposite reaction. Without strong quips to overcome his lily-livered character, Samberg is left floundering in scene after scene as the failed punchlines pile up like witless corpses of the damned. He’s not the only performer who suffers in silence here. (I’m looking at you, Vanilla Ice. You too, Todd Bridges.)
The diminishing box office returns for That’s My Boy (barely half of its surprisingly large budget) is a strong sign that even Sandler’s once loyal supporters are growing tired of his hateful, passive-aggressive, man-child schtick. (Personally, I’ve never embraced it.) As his character guzzles one beer after another (without ever suffering from a hangover) and demonstrates more poor judgment than Donald Trump, it’s not difficult to understand why this terrible movie failed to break through. Two hours with Donny Berger is not funny and not fun. He’s a really bad influence on every character he encounters. His obnoxiousness is carcinogenic.
By the time we find out what’s really going on with Han’s less-than-friendly fiance, the film delivers an even creepier scenario than the teacher-student affair. It makes even less sense as a plot point (but it does inspire a rare funny one-liner from Sandler).
There are a few other throwaway lines that made me laugh (a couple in the wedding scene, for instance) but none so strong that the film’s overall quality improves all that much (although I did enjoy a lot of the music, too). At an overlong two hours, That’s My Boy is very much like its lead character, an unwanted party guest who immediately overstays its welcome.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, November 12, 2012