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Hard to believe we’re already on the eighteenth installment of our What Went Wrong? feature here at the Culture Cast. It hasn’t even been a year since Nick and I started writing segments on why films fail at the box office, and what makes their failures unique. For today’s segment, I will cover a film I have seen rather recently, and outline in detail why I think it was a failure – and possibly what could have saved it.
That’s My Boy (2012)
Adam Sandler has had a pretty easy to follow career arc. Barring a few random films like Punch-Drunk Love or Funny People, Sandler’s movies have often sought out the lowest common denominator. A typical Adam Sandler film, by design, is rude, crude, and appealing to mass audiences. Sandler has been involved in a variety of successful film productions over the past 15 years, with only a few outright flops on his resume. His only real misfire until recently, 2000’s Little Nicky, even remains a cult gem to some. Last year, Sandler bombed with Jack and Jill, which grossed significantly less at the box office than the standard Adam Sandler vehicle. 2012’s That’s My Boy, just one of many summer comedy misfires this year, flopped even harder.
That’s My Boy is the story of Donny Berger, a man-child (in a Sandler film? No way!) who fathers a son with his high school math teacher. Twenty-five years later, that son (played with a goofy charm by Andy Samberg) is all kinds of a mess, having to regularly take anti-anxiety drugs to perform mundane tasks the rest of us do without a hitch each and every day. When Donny stops by, needing $50,000 to cover legal and IRS expenses, the two are forced to reconcile their differences. Littered with cameo performances, That’s My Boy also features Leighton Meester, an absolutely gross Milo Ventimiglia, and Blake Clark (who is better than the work he keeps getting in Sandler movies) in supporting roles, and was primed to be the next big summer gross-out comedy. So, what exactly went wrong?
That’s My Boy is one of the few broad Adam Sandler comedies to be rated R, which severely limited its commercial appeal to consumers. Sandler’s bread-and-butter audience at this point is families (proved by the success of his generic PG-13 comedies as well as his more recent success with Hotel Transylvania). R-rated comedies, generally speaking, need an interesting premise (The Hangover, Knocked Up, Superbad, Bridesmaids, Ted) or a built-in audience (ala The Hangover 2) to be successful. Additionally, That’s My Boy was absolutely savaged by critics, with only 21% responding positively according to Rotten Tomatoes. Indeed one critic even referred to That’s My Boy as being worse than Sandler’s previous film Jack and Jill, which had also been savaged in the media.
It doesn’t help that That’s My Boy has almost too much story crammed into it. Characters disappear for long stretches of time or are totally underdeveloped (Tony Orlando, Ciara). Many of the cameos just aren’t funny (Vanilla Ice, Todd Bridges, Dan Patrick) either. A toned-down PG-13 version (which I probably would have railed against ironically) may have actually ended up saving this production. More Sandler fans could have gone to see it, and some of the outright grossness of the film (which I won’t get into…because I just can’t) would have been completely excised as well, sparing us from yet another needless gross-out comedy. That’s My Boy actually had potential to go to some dark, interesting places and talk seriously, if only for a moment, about the repercussions of Sandler’s character’s actions. In the end, however, That’s My Boy ended up being Sandler’s worst flop since Little Nicky. Hopefully Sandler will mature a bit with his next film. I know he has another Funny People in him somewhere.