A version of this review appeared in The Age, June 16, 2012.
Say what you like about Adam Sandler, he's not afraid to tackle provocative themes. The prologue of That's My Boy introduces the hero Donnie Berger (Justin Weaver) as a precocious seventh-grader seduced by his sexy teacher Miss McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino). Is Donnie the luckiest boy in school, as his classmates think? Or is he the victim of abuse that will haunt him forever?
Subsequent events appear to point to the second option. When the relationship goes public, the pregnant Miss McGarricle is jailed, while Donnie (played by Sandler as an adult) becomes a pop culture icon on the strength of his tabloid fame. Decades later, he's a drunken has-been, almost as washed up as his friend Vanilla Ice. To pay off years of back taxes, he's forced to seek help from his estranged adult son Han Solo (Andy Samberg), a neurotic financial whiz kid who prefers to be called “Todd” and who is about to marry into a snooty high society family; you can pretty much guess how things go from here.
Directed by Sean Anders from a script credited to David Caspe, this largely unfunny but strikingly weird comedy puts an disquieting spin on Sandler's usual celebration of “arrested development”. Not only does fortysomething Donnie behave like a teenager, but every aspect of his personality – wardrobe, catchphrases, taste in music – is stuck in the 1980s, the decade of his troubled youth.
In between Samburg's innately kinky wholesomeness and Peggy Stewart's turn as a hot-to-trot granny, the film displays a gleeful perversity that comes as a relief from Sandler's recent turn to family values. Still, in the end we're meant to believe Donnie is basically an awesome dude – a “good person”, as he keeps saying – while the characters who disapprove of him are secretly sick freaks. Maybe only Sandler's therapist could work this one out.