Somewhere, in a corner office, Ted Sarandos looks at his beautifully colored Netflix calendar. In the bottom right corner, something’s awry. There’s a taste cluster slot open. “Hmm. July 20, we have a stand-up special, an indie acquisition, some other shows. We need a low-budget comedy with easy visual gags. To the algorithm machine, lads!”
Beep boop an Archie Bunker father figure beep blop squares off with a beepbeepbeep hen-pecked Will Ferrell in Daddy’s Home type. The algorithm recommends producing under the Adam Sandler-Happy Madison contract to fulfill a deal (the Rogen April Fools program was unable to be developed into a full set of movies this year). A requirements readout appears on the algorithm machine’s red-and-black display.
Happy Madison requirements: C-string Sandler mainstay at the helm. A three-product placement minimum. Netflix comedy generator requirements: approximate 90-minute runtime, pictures of David Spade looking “wacky” for the search engine results, and a few pratfalls for any autoplay trailers. Plot requirements: TBD.
Clang clang clang according to Outlook, David Spade and Nat Faxon are available during the same six weeks. Excel suggests this can be produced for $5 million, save for overages. Calculating. Calculating. It is a green light. Hit ‘Enter’ to produce for late summer release.
Sarandos slams his neatly cuticled and bronzed hand on the Netflix GO button.
That’s how one can imagine we got here, folks. Father of the Year. Starring David Spade and Nat Faxon. A Happy Madison joint. Now streaming.
Welcome to the ugh phase in the Sandler Cinematic Universe. Father of the Year is second-string Happy Madison comedy and third-string Netflix filler, featuring a lazy Spade and a misused Faxon barking nonsense. This is a movie-thing that could only be described as uninspired. Papas squaring off, crazy summer hijinks among friends, small town dreams blah blah blah. It’s all been done. It’s dead. Stop it. In Happy Madison terms, should you watch this, you’ll beg for the days of left-field concepts like Sandler playing the son of Satan. For as cynical as it sounds, it’s not hard to imagine why everyone involved could give so little of a shit when the bar is set so low. This film is all easy beats, predictive familiarities, and absolutely zero heart, soul, or silliness anywhere to be found.
Tyler Spindel is the project manag … director and co-writer of this waste. (This is only the first of his two Happy Madison projects in 2018; the other is only known as Untitled Happy Madison/Netflix Project as of this writing.) He’s a bit player from past Sandler movies who’s seemingly graduated to helmer. Maybe he’s cheaper than Dennis Dugan at this point, but Spindel is the poor guy left to Elmer’s glue various scenes together. The through-line is two dads and two sons coming to terms with their differences, and having a few yuks, after a debate between their kids escalates. The rest is up to Spindel.
Spade is Wayne, a Joe Dirt variant. He’s a long-haired, Southie-voiced New Hampshire single dad. Now, Spade has two modes. There’s his snide mode, which is great. And there’s his condescending to the lower economic classes mode, which we’re stuck with once again here. He’s a bargain-basement Ricky from Trailer Park Boys, drunk and mispronouncing words and fighting dancing balloon displays. He’s one of those heart-of-gold dads or some such thing, because Father of the Year gives him a lot of passes for loads of bad behavior. He reconnects with his son Ben (Joey Bragg, Liv and Maddie), a college valedictorian and total put-upon nice guy. Jokes of embarrassment ensue. Ben tries to hook up with his high school crush, has to build a pool, has to … BEEPBEEP do not spoil wild and crazy hijinks delete delete delete.
Wayne, as a character, doesn’t work. Wayne’s ways are hard to excuse when the jokes don’t go big enough, and there’s this nagging sense that the film’s asking you to spend breezy time with a bad-guy alcoholic. Wayne gets drunk, picks fights, and continues to amble through life in that whiny Spade voice. Go to a bar, or even YouTube, and you can see the same thing for a fraction of the time and headache.
Faxon. Man, Faxon. The Academy Award-winning writer of The Descendants is Mardy (with a “D”, it’s a recurring bit), a New Hampshire step-dad to Larry (Matt Shively, Paranormal Activity 4). Larry and Ben are best buds. Mardy and Wayne combat.
The reason there’s little to offer beyond simple character cues here is because there’s seriously scant story or charisma or anything really, to be found in Father of the Year. It’s all stereotypes and no discernible plot. Some animosities, reconciliations, and other moments in between occur, but what’s worth mentioning? A slug-out over a greenhouse? A barber shop brawl? How about a scene where Spade grows breasts, because of an accidental side effect from some ointment? It’s all a begrudging shrug of misunderstandings, leading to a big, caustic hug at the end.
The jokes never land, because they’re staged in cheap, forceful, and frankly curt fashion. Ben, avoiding a cute girl, climbs atop a hardware shelf, and wanna bet said shelf doesn’t topple? It’s also hard to catch a punchline or set-up when Spindel seems obligated to cleanly photograph Postmates and Budweiser advertising in the foreground of his many missed gags. Best of all, Ben finds a dead body in a backyard. Skeleton bones, to be exact. A shudder went down this critic’s spine during that whole bit. It’s just mean and creepy, and it states as fact that a middle-aged woman is a killer, moments before jesting that she’s a pedophile for young boys. It could have all been played for cartoonish laughs maybe. But there’s a pattern of meanness at work with the film overall that’s just life-sucking after a while. Think those are isolated incidents? Here’s another: Wayne gets loaded and chucks a bottle through his trailer wall, played for the laughs. Because he thinks his son hates him. That’s not funny, that’s a call for therapy.
Back to Spade, for a moment. Remember when David Spade was on the razor’s edge of comedy? “Look children, it’s a falling star, make a wish” he once snarkily suggested of Eddie Murphy’s career in the ‘90s. Ironic, isn’t it? Spade once cracked this great line, and now look at him, opening a Netflix throwaway comedy by crawling out from underneath a trailer while holding a leaf-crusted mattress. The joke? He’s poor. Haw. Wait’ll you get a load of his Boston accent and truck-bed hot tub. That’s comedy with a capital C right there. Sigh. The point being: how much lower can Spade fall, really? (Granted, this outfit gave Joe Dirt 2a very deserved F, so he’s probably in hell already.)
David Spade doesn’t seem to care about this movie. Tyler Spindel and the other primary players involved seemingly don’t either. Netflix only cares about the bottom-line viewership numbers. So why should you?