In the 1980s, young Somerville teen Donny Berger (Justin Weaver) fathers a child with his math teacher Miss McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino). Though the relationship is criminal and icky, Donny gains some measure of fame from the situation — a book, a TV movie about his story starring Ian Ziering and Alan Thicke — becomes a bit of a local hero. And he is awarded custody of their child, whom he names Han Solo Berger.
Fast-forward a few decades and Han Solo has left Donny far behind and changed his name to Todd Peterson (Andy Samberg). He’s a twentysomething hedge fund manager who has a bundle of insecurities and phobias but he hopes he’s on the cusp of having a happily normal life with his future wife, Jamie (Leighton Meester). But after Todd’s engagement photo appears in a local newspaper, Donny decides to look for him. Donny, you see, is into the IRS for some $40,000 and needs to make some quick cash to avoid jail. A sleazy TV host offers him 50 large to appear in a reunion special with Miss McGarricle at the women’s prison — but only if he can get his son to come as well. Donny grabs some beers and heads to the Cape, where Todd’s wedding is scheduled to take place.
Todd is, naturally, not happy to see his dad, but he lets him hang around and, since he’s already told people that his father is dead, tells everybody that Donny is his best friend. Of course, Todd’s plans to keep his wedding and the surrounding events strictly high class start to fall apart with the introduction of the crude, profanity-spouting Donny.
So here’s the thing about Donny: He might actually be up there with Funny People’s George Simmons and Punch-Drunk Love’s Barry Egan as one of Sandler’s best characters. Donny is a New England-specific brand of loud-mouthed, overly confident sexist jerk who, even while he’s leaving a trail of empty beer cans and crude insults, is also poking holes in pretension and having genuine nice moments with his son. It is weird that in a movie chock full of every kind of cringe-inducing sex joke, Sandler might actually be giving one of his better, more rounded performances. With his “hey, guy” and the beer can permanently in his hand and the absolute refusal to wear anything that smacks of “selling out” (a tie, for example, or unrumpled pants), Donny is a guy who, even if you don’t specifically know him, you can image that you might know. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a whole lot of subtlety in what Sandler is doing — but there is a little more nuance than you might expect.
Because Donny is at least within throwing distance of being a real-ish person, and because Samberg makes Todd something more than just a standard comedy straight man, it somehow changes the dynamic of the movie. This isn’t just another Jack and Jill where Sandler is playing so broad you feel like he’s shouting at you for the whole movie. There’s plenty in this movie that had me wishing I could hit the fast-forward button, but there were also times when I found myself laughing out loud (some of those times included Vanilla Ice, who showed up to play a down-on-his-luck version of himself). I could have called the eighth-grade-bathroom-humor level of this movie’s comedy but I could not have predicted that some of it would actually make me laugh.
And there you have the central difference between this movie — most deserving of its R rating though it is — and other movies that would appear to be like this (some of Sandler’s earlier films but also movies like Bucky Larson, which stars Nick Swardson, who also appears briefly here): It made me, sporadically, laugh. There are hints here of a darker, sharper comedy, and while they aren’t perhaps enough to save the movie, they make for a nice surprise. C-
Rated R for crude sexual content throughout, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use. Directed by Sean Anders and written by David Caspe, That’s My Boy is an hour and 34 minutes long and distributed by Sony Pictures.