In 1984, a 13-year-old Donny Berger (Justin Weaver) rose to fame as a result of a torrid affair with his beautiful maths teacher, Miss Mary McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino). The affair gets Donny a six-figure deal for his life story, the cover of Tiger Beat and other 80s teeny-bopper magazines, and a host of television fame and fortune; the affair gets Ms McGarricle a 30-year-stay behind bars. There’s also the sticky matter of the couple’s son, conceived as a result of the illicit affair.
Fast-forward 25 years, and Donny Berger (Adam Sandler) is a human punchline. Like a lot of other child stars and instant celebrities, he blew his money on cars, women, and partying. Sure, it was fun at the time, but when you’re a celebrity father at 13, there’s not a lot of places you can go after that to keep the money coming in, and this was long before the celebrity reality show became a money-making staple for such non-famous folk as the Kardashians. So, Donny is broke and living in the past, and if he doesn’t come up with $42,000, he’s also going to end up in jail for tax evasion.
However, Donny has an idea. The son of his affair, the awesomely named Han Solo Berger, has grown up, left his father when he turned 18, and has somehow turned himself from a national joke to a respected hedge fund manager under the name Todd (Andy Samberg). Todd’s engaged to be married to the lovely Jamie (Leighton Meester) and has his life on the fast track to financial success.
That is, until his father comes back into his life. Can Donny make up for all those lost years? Can Donny make up for his terrible parenting by being fun? Is Tony Orlando there for some reason? Are there multiple pee jokes? You know the answers already.
You have to give the casting agent credit. Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg could very easily be father and son. In fact, Samberg played Sandler on multiple Saturday Night Live skits; they’re both comedians with a musical background who made their name with silly songs and singing skits before heading to movies. Samberg’s comedy skews a little smarter and Sandler’s a little dumber, but aside from that, they’re really similar in both expression and delivery. Aside from the leads, there’s a very good supporting cast: Leighton Meester, Milo Ventamiglia, Will Forte, Rachel Dratch, James Caan, and a host of other vaguely recognizable faces. Yet apart from a few shining moments from James Caan, most of them don’t get a ton to do besides react to Sandler’s mugging.
The script, from Happy Endings scribe David Caspe, is pretty standard for this sort of comedy. You’ll know the story arc before anything happens: slob becomes decent person who wins back his son’s love. I don’t think that’s a spoiler in any sense of the word; it’s apparent from the trailers what the movie’s general arc is. It’s a comedy, and what matters is the laughs. As it turns out, the movie has some very funny moments (and some even funnier cameos).
It pushes the limits of taste at points (as all recent Sandler movies do), but it doesn’t go overboard – most of the time, that is. Not all of the jokes work. The more subtle ones work, and some of the bolder ones work, but the majority bounced harmlessly or provoked slight chuckles from the audience. It’s uneven in execution and tone, though it will probably be popular with Happy Madison fans and those who like gross-out humour.
The script is aided by the direction of Sean Anders. It moves well, and never lingers too long on one joke or another. As a comedy writer, he knows beats and pacing, and it improves the movie. There are some questionable choices, but it’s solidly done for the most part. It doesn’t impart a reason as to why Sandler’s Donny Berger is so well-liked, but he’s usually fun and only moderately obnoxious, and I like the repeated move that becomes Berger’s signature laugh-generator.
As Adam Sandler films go, this is not the worst he’s ever done; certainly, That’s My Boy is miles ahead of last year’s big Happy Madison release, Bucky Larson. Still, Andy Samberg essentially plays the straight man here, wasting his comic chops with a milquetoast character. It’s a bit uneven, and eventually the escalating vulgarity of some of the comic set pieces fails to shock because it goes from a surprise to expected. There’s some fun here, but not enough for me.