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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: That’s My Boy

THAT’S MY BOY (One and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Sean Anders, 2012

Say one thing for Adam Sandler: He isn’t afraid of looking like an idiot on screen. Or a boor. Or a horny dude. Or a comedian who doesn’t give a damn what the the critics think of him. In Sandler’s outrageously uninhibited, defiantly obnoxious but good-natured new movie, That’s My Boy, he plays, to the hilt, Donny Berger, an outrageously uninhibited, defiantly obnoxious, good-natured guy who became famous in the ’80s — or had fame thrust upon him, as his classmates colorfully put it — when, as a lippy 13-year-old eighth-grader, he had an affair with his sexy junior high (or middle school) teacher, Mary McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino), had a baby with her, and became a tabloid sensation.

A folk hero, almost. (This movie would have pronounced it differently.) The teacher went to jail, but Donny was able to milk his notoriety for a solid, sordid career in moron TV,  junk journalism and public appearances, as a role model for nincompoops, and as a fervent patron of the local strip joints. He also raised his son, whom he proudly named Han Solo Berger, and did such a terrible job of it — putting Han on a do-what-you-want-kid diet that made him obese and diabetic, and getting the boy plastered with a full-back skin tattoo of The New Kids on the Block– that the kid fled home and vanished at the age of 18, resurfacing (as played by fellow Saturday Night Live alum Andy Samberg) under a new name, Todd Peterson, with a new Nutri-System-style skinny bod, and with a new respectable career as a hedge fund manager. (Respectable?)

Now, Todd is about to get married, to nasty pretty Jamie (Leighton Meester) the local spoiled little princess of a rich family, in an expensive lawn party wedding staged at the posh estate of Todd’s boss moneyman Steve Spirou (played by Tony Orlando, minus Dawn). And Donny is facing jail unless he can come up with 43 thousand dollars in back taxes for the I.R.S.

One would think Donny could get some quick cash easily by selling his life story or a cameo appearance to Adam Sandler’s production company, Happy Madison, but somebody else comes to the rescue. An old TV producer/employer of Donny’s makes him an offer he can‘t refuse. If Donny will exploit his teacher-lover, Tabloid Mary, and his now successful son (who hasn’t talked to his dad since he skedaddled at 18), and get them both to appear with him on camera, on reality TV, the station will cough up the dough to save him from the slammer. One little catch: the Todd of today won’t even admit Donny is his dad. He has become a (skinny) little snob, who thinks his pops is a colossal embarrassment (which if course, he is, and proudly), and probably intends to vote for Mitt Romney, and maybe even contribute to his campaign.

    Big hurdle. But hey. Adam Sandler isn’t afraid of looking like an idiot, and neither is Donny. (Neither is Mitt.) So the Burgermeister shows up at the Spirou estate, dressed in his best  jeans, jean jacket and shag haircut, and triggering an avalanche of ‘80s hits on the soundtrack. Amiably, he goes along when the humiliated Todd introduces Donny not as his pops, but as his best friend. (That’s better?) Todd though, needn’t have worried — at least at first. His wife-to-be may be mean and bossy and an absolute little snake (and other things) and her brother Chad (Milo Ventimiglia) may be a macho-man military type who belongs in the out-takes of Meet the Parents, but the rest of the family quickly succumb to Donny’s fatal tabloid charm — including jovial boss Steve and good-time Grandma Delores (Peggy Stewart, in a role I hope was never offered to Betty White).

What does Donny do, in the face of all this love and acceptance and the new craze for ‘80s gags and allusions? (Wazzup? Wazzup!) Naturally, he goes to the Culture Wars, waging a campaign to convert Todd from a tight-ass hedge fund manager financial exploiter jerk into somebody that might be proud to be pledged by Delta House and set up weekly Hangover sessions in the rec room. Lesson One: Donny pulls the entire bachelor party, planned by the movie’s resident dork, over to the local strip joint and introduces them to Champale, played by the outrageously saftig Luenell, who has, to put it politely, hooters that could smother a grizzly bear. The movie goes downhill from there – not that it was ever particularly uphill. (I’m just glad that Luenell wasn’t cast as the teacher.)

     That’s My Boy has the same title as a very popular 1951 Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis movie, but, like Donny, the new show is shameless and dumb and horny and obsessed with ‘80s trivia — which, of course, is just the kind of stuff Sandler’s crowd probably wants and expects and damn well deserves. We’re a long way from the more ambitious (and better) Sandler movies like Punch Drunk Love and Funny People, closer to Little Nicky territory, or to slap-happy vehicles like Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, the two somewhat mean-spirited and dopey, but funny, farces that gave Sandler the moniker for his production company.

Sandler plays Donny with impressive shamelessness and with an annoying squeaky, gravelly Boston accent that suggests “Cheers” under ether. And he and his fellow filmmakers, director Sean Anders (of Sex Drive) and writer David Caspe (of TV’s “Happy Endings”) have contrived plenty of silly, obnoxious scenes and masturbatory gags for the show — including a punch-out with the wedding priest (two-fisted Father McNally, played stoically by James Caan), the drunken deflowering of Jamie‘s wedding dress (probably a movie first), some hot grandma encounters, the most embarrassing scene I have ever seen Susan Sarandon have to do (and she brings it off), and lots of opportunities for ’80s rapper Vanilla Ice, who pops up as Donny’s best friend (or maybe his father).

One little catch: A number of critics have commented on how cute they think Andy Samberg is in That‘s My Boy, but I kept waiting for Tina Fey to show up, or for Leighton Meester to lighten up. Also, I feel honor-bound to report that, though I didn’t laugh much at this movie, others did, sometimes loudly. (They had to laugh hard, to be heard over the din of the soundtrack, which includes most of the dialogue.) And they laughed at both appropriate and inappropriate times, not that very much of this movie is appropriate.

Anyway, That’s My Boy (this version, not the one with Dean and Jerry) can be recommended without hesitation to anyone looking for something inappropriate to do on Father’s Day, or anyone who liked Jack and Jill, or who likes everything Adam Sandler does, including Mixed Nuts, or who once bought a Vanilla Ice album and played it at least three times, or who bought an album by Tony Orlando and Dawn, or by Tony Orlando without Dawn (or by Dawn without Tony Orlando), or by anyone who wants to see a wedding dress get deflowered (and barfed on). I’m not certain how big an audience that embraces but I‘m sure it’s sizable. And enthusiastic. And loyal. Or something. All others beware, especially people looking for Coriolanus or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

As I went over the notes I scribbled in the dark for this movie (they consisted of a nearly illegible Wazzup? Wazzup!), one thing suddenly occurred to me. In some stupid way, That’s My Boy is like a (demented) version of The Graduate, for our time. (That’s a sad commentary on our time.) It has a young man who’s worried about his future, rock n’roll on the soundtrack, swimming pools and lots of phony bourgeoisie, an inappropriate family affair, a scene in a strip club, a clueless father, a voracious older woman, a race and a wedding scene that gets interrupted at the last moment.

But there’s no Elaine equivalent character, maybe because someone like that wouldn’t have fit in with mean Jamie, or hefty Champale and the bachelor party or the long running gag about statutory rape, or all the jokes about hard-ons. Oh, well….That’s our boy!

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon