LOS ANGELES – Adam Sandler’s comedy “That’s My Boy,” slated for release on Father's Day 2012, centers on a 13-year-old boy named Donny having a sexual relationship with his middle school teacher, resulting in a child.
Thirty years later, Donny is reunited with his now grown-up son (Andy Samberg), who fled his single father as soon as he turned 18, and it’s all fun and games as they get to know each other again.
But father/son bonding aside, is statutory rape an acceptable comic premise?
The trailer for "That's My Boy" shows young teen Donny mesmerized by his teacher “crush,” who saunters down the school corridor in slow motion. She then fondles her cleavage while staring at the child seductively in the classroom. But “things went too far.” Cut to the courtroom where Donny’s mates high-five him for impregnating his teacher. As she is dragged off to jail, she screams: “Take care of our baby, Donny!”
Many critics are finding this hard to take.
“Hollywood is becoming so dysfunctional that it can’t even produce humor without being crass and twisted,” Dan Gainor, VP of Business and Culture for the Media Research Center. “Since when did child molestation and rape become the stuff of humor?”
Others doubt the movie would have been green-lighted had genders been switched, with a male teacher seducing his thirteen-year-old female student.
“That would have been billed as a tragedy. I hope the film ends with the teacher (if released from prison) registering as a sex offender. These crimes are grossly under reported because our society encourages this double standard,” said Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Dr. Nancy Irwin. “I am gravely concerned about the message and tacit permission teenage males will take away from irresponsible filmmaking like this. Children from this sort of relationship frequently have issues to sort through that are far from funny.”
In 1997 the film “Lolita,” based on Vladimir Nabokov's book about a middle-aged professor becoming sexually involved with a 12-year-old girl, sparked a firestorm of controversy. But so far, nothing similar has arisen from Sandler's similar (albeit comedic) plotline.
“I can’t imagine the film being made if the roles were reversed and it was a male teacher and underage female,” says movie producer and author Mark Joseph, who added that while its a comedian’s job to find humor in any situation, his concern is whether the film will glorify such an incident.
“That’s My Boy,” rated R for crude sexual content, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use, has attracted a mixed response from potential filmgoers.
“This as a concept for a movie is truly revolting. It reinforces the idea that is cool to f**k your teacher. Actually for a young boy the experience is dreadful and confusing,” one person commented on the trailer. Another defended the clip and said that “all funny movies have stupidity in them.” Entertainment reporter Jenn Hoffman agrees that “no premise goes too far” when it comes to art.
“As a profession it's up to artists, comedians and writers to push boundaries, challenge social norms and explore topics other people are too afraid to broach,” she added. “Then, since this is America, we get to show praise or criticism of artistic concepts with our wallets, which is one of the founding principles of capitalism.”
The film’s distributors Sony/Columbia declined to comment, while a rep for Sandler and his production company Happy Madison did not respond to a request for comment.