Adam Sandler’s raunch-fest “That’s My Boy” hit theaters in time for Father’s Day, starring Jewish icons Sandler and Andy Samberg (“Saturday Night Live”) as the reconciling father and son. And not unexpectedly, critics aren’t exactly embracing the film, while acknowledging the humor will hit the sweet spot for Sandler fans who appreciate his puerile man-child shtick.
The film begins as Donny Berger (Sandler), who names his kid Hans Solo Berger after siring him at 13 with his middle school teacher (Susan Sarandon), reenters sonny’s life seeking cash: If he doesn’t come up with $43,000 pronto, he’s going to jail for tax evasion. Donny immediately wreaks havoc with his boy, now renamed Todd and a rich hedge fund manager, just in time for Todd’s wedding to a high-maintenance princess (Leighton Meester). Jokes ensue about everything from masturbation to feces.
USA Today critic Claudia Puig didn’t appreciate the antics: Sandler “is hellbent on perpetrating and repurposing his annoying brand of moronic, preadolescent shtick,” she wrote. “Worse, his lowbrow comedies seem to be sinking even lower.”
Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman was gentler: “Watching Sandler in …his latest assault on subtlety, good taste, and other values that a critic like me is supposed to trash the star for dumping on, I can’t say that I laughed a lot (though when I did laugh, it was big and loud),” he wrote. “But on some level I marveled at the conviction that Sandler pours into playing a character like Donny Berger, a boneheaded, loud-mouthed alcoholic loser.”
Time’s Mary Pols also admitted she laughed during parts of the film: “The movie is so disgusting it is worthy of the Farrelly brothers,” she opined. “It contains the longest simultaneous joke about child rape and its effects on the victim (drug abuse, alcoholism, etc.) ever made. Call me a prude, but you know, little Donny was raped….But again,” she added, “I did laugh. It’s not so much the jokes as written but the go-for-broke performances.”
The New York Times’ David Dewitt wasn’t entirely turned off, either, noting that the film’s “busily plotted second half approaches involving. It leads to a big payoff wedding, after all, and it has a large ensemble for support…Mr. Sandler manages a frame or so of genuine sentiment, and the caricature is so ugly it’s cute.”
The Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan disagreed, describing the comedy as “long, choppy and deadly dull, despite sporadic efforts to defibrillate the audience back to consciousness with jokes about incest, pedophilia, incontinence and geriatric sex…So is the movie itself funny? Some people – including me – managed to appreciate a dumb joke or two. Sandler has his partisans, but the aggressive awfulness of ‘That’s My Boy” seems calculated to test even their patience.”
Some reviewers did appreciate Samberg, whose “sweet embodiment of this poor schlub is one of the few thing here that the script’s general air of hyper-sexed misanthropy can’t spoil,” Justin Chang wrote in Variety. “He even manages to bring out an element of likability in Sandler’s Donny. This is no small feat.”
Chang summed up many of the reviews I read when, while calling the film “a shameless celebration of degenerate behavior… and staggering moral idiocy,” he immediately added: “All in all, it could have been worse.”