What happens when the pedantic, frustrated everyman meets his opposite, the wild, unpredictable alpha male? Exactly what happens in every other film with the same premise, according to Daddy’s Home. This end-of-the-year comedy starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg will have a hard time opening along some of the most anticipated films of the season. With cinemagoers forced to pick between Star Wars, The Hateful Eight, The Peanuts Movie, In the Heart of the Sea, The Danish Girl, and Daddy’s Home, most will be likely to save the last for their next transoceanic flight.
Let’s be clear: Daddy’s Home is not a bad film, and you’ll find it impossible not to laugh when confronted with Ferrell’s comedic genius, but there is very little depth to it, and watching it yields absolutely no fulfilment.
The story follows the clash between stepfather Brad (Ferrell) and absentee biological dad Dusty (Wahlberg). Brad is trying his best to be a better husband to Dusty’s ex-wife Sarah (Linda Cardellini), and works hard to be accepted by Dusty’s children; when Dusty resurfaces and starts hanging out with the kids, a rivalry between the two sparks, eventually turning into open war. The film consists mainly of a sequence of gags involving the two: Brad is the chickenhearted loser, who wears beige sweaters and volunteers for the school and the boy scouts; Dusty is the smoking hot, footloose biker who left his wife and kids – but now he’s back, and everyone loves him. Completing the cast are stand-up comedian Hannibal Buress (in a rather odd sidekick role), and Thomas Haden Church as Brad’s boss.
Although the clichéd linearity of the plot will put you in the unpleasant position of predicting every plot point at least half an hour before it happens on screen, Daddy’s Home’s comedy works well more often than not. It could have been another debacle for director Sean Anders, whose resume features credits for Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Dumb and Dumber To and Horrible Bosses 2. This time, however, his reputation is in the hands of Will Ferrell, and the results are different. Ferrell once again proves his great comedic timing, even during the film’s less convincing moments (there are some truly unwatchable CGI effects), often looking too good for the feature he’s in.
The greatest frustration of his character lays in the evident limitations of the script: Brad is supposed to be the protagonist, fighting for his family, proving himself a better parent than the irresponsible biological father, but somehow fails miserably every time. The unfairness of Dusty constantly winning delegitimises Ferrell as a protagonist; Wahlberg, on the other hand, plays a role that is supposed to be despicable rather well.
While Daddy’s Home eventually acknowledges the efforts parents must endure every day to support their family, there is very little actual insight in the characters’ parenting style. Of course Dusty is unreliable, but are we really sure that Brad, with his softie approach and corporate-like life lessons, is a real role model? Never once in the whole film does Brad actually prove to be a better person, or grow to be one, which makes him as unlikable as Dusty. Even considering the few interesting jokes, Daddy’s Home is tough to appreciate.
Words by Davide Prevarin