Review: "That's My Boy"
Adam Sandler deserves credit for being angry that a culture he grew up knowing pleasures from, has essentially been demarcated subsequently as something you can only bring up with shame. The really quite wonderful Grosse Pointe Blank is, however, an indication of this unfair pattern – the 80s were Reagan and aids, a time to get trapped in. Well, in truth, so it was – it was a period where society seemed mostly interested in abandoning its dependents and building remove so to not hear their complaint (bang on, Risky Business and Breakfast Club). The kinds of things we were offered to take pleasure from showed what growing up in that decade did to our preferences – I’m sorry, but though Vanilla Ice, Mustang 5.0s, gloomy uterine strip clubs did please for seeming to grant us access to black culture, powerhouse prowess, the illicit, something is off with you in retrospect if you can’t see that the main reason to now stand up for them is because they once meant something to kids. The kids who grew up with them may rightfully still feel better provisioned than today’s, and I think they are, but this is only because things have just become more scrutinized, tightened up.
But I did still enjoy Vanilla Ice, I did still know awe at the power of the 5.0s, I was excited by the sense of realm-transgression offered in the strip club; and I thought when we turned away from those we began to feel guilty about taking enjoyment from, kicked them while they were down so that we could feel for awhile like we were in charge, it was an indication of the extent of the damage we’d incurred. We abandoned our stars hard, near encouraging them to suicide themselves so to not trail us through our lives. Sandler bravely stands up for them, and is trying to use his Hollywood power to encourage a safe-zone whereby we can do something about this period so many of us grew up in other than flee it, and feel cool for doing so. With the considerable help of his work, the pieces come back into view, and you’re not going to be allowed to say, simply, “God, did we really grow up with that?,” a response that has for subsequent decades shortchanged us the ability to really reflect and engage with the past that determined much of our adult selves. It’s become time for Sandler’s long, aggressively appreciative engagement with it. You need not only to hear of Vanilla Ice again, know that he survived his suicide-attempts and is occupied fruitfully making homes, but spend part of an evening with him, even if just to allow you the slow goodbye someone who was once (he was, assholes, don’t deny it) a meaningful part of yours deserves.
But it’s never time to believe that this period did not ultimately shortchange us. It did. It became cool to pick on anybody who could remind us of our father-shortchanged (80s were the time for divorce, and I don't remember seeing my dad all that much -- did you?), mother-overwhelmed selves – gays in particular. I do appreciate that this film was made out of truly righteous anger at what is always denied when we talk about teachers sexually preying on their students – specifically, that this was a dream near every male student had, which shouldn’t have become something which can’t be mentioned lest you be made to seem to have given excuse for rampant human victimization everywhere. But it’s not so cool to suggest that maybe there was something right about young men’s fear of gay culture as well. Think about it, the right of young men not to be ashamed of their fantasies is stuck up for by someone with the formidableness – Sandler – to show he knows something about the charms of mature love – Saran Sarandon and Adam Sandler together mostly ends up communicating the beauty of an erroneous but still well-watched pair. It is stuck up for by someone with the formidableness to argue that what kids need badly is more attendance; and to convey the pleasure to both parties that come from this with convincing honesty – there’s not, as there more than sometimes is with Wes Anderson, any coveting of the lost-look, the apartness, being abandoned is often pictured as giving you. Alone, his kid isn't centered enough to sufficiently stand up for himself -- and that's about right.
But it is also stuck up for by someone who shows you another coupling society sees as a crime, and aggressively supports its judgment – bother-sister incest. The two involved somehow, but still appropriately, become the good-looking people, the kind that scared the insecure 80s boys of the sort who burrowed into Dungeons and Dragons dens, forestalling meaningful self-development, went to strip clubs because it brought women down to essentials you could handle, were the first to join in on dissing “the fags,” Mili Vanilli. They become the kind of people who readily picked on us, but whom we might imagine actually picking on, if they could somehow be tipped over into a category of priss for their liking, say, jazz dance (they wore pink Ralph Lauren, so to ignorant us, plausible enough), if they could be made to seem -- gay.
This is a shameful aspect to this movie. There were a couple parts in it that drove a few people in the audience to pick up and leave; but even at their worst the fact that so much of Sandler’s main point deserves respect, and because he has cast some of the more empathic, more good, SNL members of times past in this movie (Ana Gasteyer in particular), I worked my way through them – but are you really okay with the stripper blowjob scene?, can you honestly say the girl giving the blowjob didn’t exist in this movie to play the part of the insecure youth who is outmatched and overwhelmed by someone older -- specifically here by the stripper matriarch -- and then used by men at will, so that while one insecure youth is redeemed in this film, another is sacrificed? did the 80-year-old’s sexual advance, ostensbily about some other thing redeemed, not still remind you of the shower scene of the Shining? But if Sandler endorses what are in fact true offenses, unable to recognize them simply as bad because they happened to also be discredited at a time when society was cruelly concerned to make young men feel suspect about themselves, their inherent inclinations, what they did to shore up some sense of themselves as strong, as in charge, rather than perennially preyed upon, I’m sorry, but I’m turning on him hard. It won’t be about abandonment, but about communicating to him that he is now just as much picking on people himself.
One last thing, did Sandler know by choosing to make his character the one who drove the 5.0, leaving ostensibly redeemed Vanilla Ice to the passenger seat, in the context of macho he thereby shamed him. One wonders if part of his purpose in redeeming people everyone else seems bent on denying, is that thereby they become his doll collection, all his own to play with.