Grandma’s Boy announces its retro style with an opening shot of the Asteroids Atari video game. Like the characters’ fascination with classic gaming culture, the movie feels like a relic from ‘80s Hollywood—when mainstream comedies starred actors over 30, the posters were animated, and all jokes weren’t informed by postmodern self-consciousness. Not to say that Grandma’s Boy is very good, because it isn’t. Adam Sandler’s heinous production company Happy Madison, responsible for Joe Dirt and The Hot Chick, enlists an incapable first-time director, Nicholaus Goossen, to shoot the material, but it’s at least heartening to know a teen comedy can still climax with a visit to a burger joint, a house bong party, and a few stoned grandmothers. In comparison to the ludicrously obscene punchlines of Wedding Crashers and Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, here the laughs seem almost innocent.
Allen Covert is staggeringly effective as the 35-year-old game tester Alex, ably embodying the guarded nerdiness reduced by Steve Carell to poor caricature in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Rather than cheaply placed action figure collections, Covert demonstrates his character’s fanboy devotion with a secret project Alex codes and plays himself in his spare time. In this and other similarly good-natured pokes, the filmmakers manage to illuminate what is silliest about hardcore gamers’ rituals while refusing to degrade their genuine desires. After being evicted, Alex moves in with his grandmother and her two roommates, seemingly bringing about a number of milestones in his life, including a burgeoning relationship with the newly hired project manager, Samantha (Linda Cardellini, also fabulous and down-to-earth). Because Grandma’s Boy is so carefree (sometimes to a fault), these developments don’t so much mature Alex, who will always smoke pot and masturbate in friends’ bathrooms, as they offer him a more adult context for his young-at-heart abandon.
Unfortunately, like a Sandler crony hired to “spice things up,” Goossen misuses recognizable names for dubious cameos and pushes eccentric side characters to uncomfortable parody. Joel Moore elicits the most what-the-fuck responses as J.P., the Matrix-impersonating über-geek who programs and designs games in a sealed, monochrome office outfitted with overhanging PC monitors and booming techno music. And Kevin Nealon wastes his breath as a faux-Buddhist vegan executive with a groovy soul patch and a tendency to converse in nature metaphors. These loud, elementary approaches to satire reek of Sandler’s shrill brand of cultural affront. Sandler, who popularized these sorts of unfunny sketches in songs on SNL and later in Happy Gilmore and Mr. Deeds, carries none of the self-reflective baggage of Sarah Silverman’s bad taste; he merely exploits. The otherwise nostalgic Grandma’s Boy, then, is both a reminder of Gen X goofiness and a sad indication of contemporary teen comedy’s subtle but calculated chauvinism.