DADDY'S HOME (2015)
Director: Sean Anders
Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro, Thomas Haden Church, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Cannavale
MPAA Rating: (for thematic elements, crude and suggestive content, and for language)
Running Time: 1:36
Release Date: 12/25/15
Review by Mark Dujsik | December 24, 2015
The stepfather is a nice pushover. The biological father is an irresponsible tough guy. One spends most of Daddy's Home wondering if mom wouldn't be better off if she just dropped both men from her life and found someone new. Surely there's somebody out there for her—a man who isn't so insecurely needy or so unwilling to consider that parenting means sticking around even when there isn't a competitor for his sense of male dominance. The movie only offers two options, though, so sadly, it's a lose-lose situation for her and the kids.
Of course, we're not supposed to think about the woman or the kids in this scenario. We're supposed to concentrate on the two men: Brad (Will Ferrell), the stepfather, and Dusty (Mark Wahlberg), the biological father.
We're supposed to sympathize with them, despite their considerable flaws. Yes, Brad is overzealous, inept, and selfish, but his heart is in the right place. He just wants to be a dad, and his stepchildren don't respect him enough to see him as one. Yes, Dusty is regularly absent, untrustworthy, and also selfish, but he's here for his kids right now. They adore him because, well, he's their dad.
Meanwhile, poor Sarah (Linda Cardellini) is, understandably, unhappy, because the guy to whom she's currently married and her ex-husband are in a pissing contest with each other. She and her children are in the middle of it—arguably the worst place to be during such competitions. They're just the prizes over which the two men are fighting. If one imagines this story from Sarah's perspective, it would be easy to picture a lot of wine involved.
Brad is about as milquetoast as they come. He works at a smooth jazz radio station, where his boss (Thomas Haden Church) tells uncomfortable stories about his aggressive sexual conquests (The "joke" is that his tales have nothing to do with the topic at hand). Sarah's children aren't too fond of Brad. Megan (Scarlett Estevez) draws pictures of the family with her stepfather dead by some violent means (He's thrilled when she sketches a family portrait featuring Brad with a knife in his eye, because he technically isn't dead in the drawing). Dylan (Owen Vaccaro) dismisses Brad's every attempt to connect.
Dusty calls after a months-long silence on his end, and Brad answers the phone. Dusty doesn't know his ex-wife has remarried, and he plans to be there the next day. He ignores Brad at the airport after asking the guy to give him a ride over the phone. He's tucking in the kids at night and telling them bedtime stories about an "evil step-king" (One of the movie's few amusing scenes has Brad and Dusty trying to one-up each other with goodnight affection, until Dusty just bribes the kids). He makes a habit of walking around the house without a shirt. When Brad asks what he does for a living, Dusty hints that he's a government operative of some kind who has left some dead bodies in his wake.
Everyone—from us in the audience to every character on screen—knows that Dusty is trying to intimidate Brad, win over the affection of his kids, and convince Sarah to give him a second chance. That is everyone except Brad, who is, to put it kindly, naïvely trusting and, to put it bluntly, an unbelievable dolt. He doesn't realize what's happening until—and this comes late in the movie—Dusty explains his motives for returning. Even then, Dusty has to say it twice before it sinks in for Brad.
That's how forced the comedy is here, and the screenplay by Brian Burns, director Sean Anders, and John Morris never really settles on a consistent tone. The movie's jokes range from the relatively innocent antics of two men trying to put on their best face to broad, destructive pratfalls (Brad accidentally sends Dusty's motorcycle crashing through and out of the house, putting him through a wall, and he later jumps on skateboard off a ramp and into power lines). There comes a point when the screenwriters decide to do away with whatever minimal amount of sympathy they may have garnered for these two characters, as Brad has a drunken fit at a basketball game and Dusty does exactly what we expect him to do when he takes on the role of a father.
Daddy's Home is not mean-spirited, or at least it's not until later (It would be easy to go on for a while about a scene in which Dylan hits a girl for laughs and the results of that encounter, but life's already too short). It is lazy, obvious, and juvenile, which aren't virtues, despite the movie's opinion on the subject.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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