An actor who has made something of a fruitful living repurposing his wide-eyed brand of comedy to a string of one-note premises, Will Ferrell makes his second appearance this year (after the blatantly racist Get Hard) with Daddy’s Home (2015), a thinly-veiled attempt at recapturing the success of his previous collaboration with co-star Mark Wahlberg. Directed by Sean Anders, the film goes out of its way to contrive its central masculinity crises in ways that quickly settle for lame, lowest common denominator jokes.
Ferrell plays Brad Taggart, a kindly everyman and proponent of hearty and wholesome family values, who dotes upon his new wife Sarah (played by Linda Cardellini) and her two young children, who rarely reciprocate his well-meaning affections. Brad’s attempts at finally winning over the attentions of his inherited charges are thrown into turmoil with the sudden arrival of Sarah’s freewheeling ex-husband Dusty (Wahlberg), who steams into town on his motorbike looking to reconnect with his children.
With his insecurity immediately aroused, Brad sets about trying to coax himself away from the inferiority complex his macho, muscle-bound newfound rival has provoked. While Dusty goes out of his way to win his family back from the clutches of whom he deems an inferior model – all the while physically one-upping him at every opportunity, Brad mounts an all-out battle to prove who is the daddy once and for all. Once again combining two of the most bankable names in contemporary American cinema but subjecting them to the directorial sophistication of the maker of Horrible Bosses 2 (2014), Daddy’s Home always had something of an uphill struggle to prove its worth in an already crowded market, one saturated by similar types of comedies that lazily don competitions as narrative frameworks. That it isn’t entirely dreadful is testament to the ease with which the two leads are able to make even the most predictable of jokes set-ups and executions seem somewhat humorous (Ferrell does incite a handful of inconsistent guffaws).
Inevitably, the film’s screenplay, co-written by Anders, Brian Burns and John Morris, fails to give the two anything inventive to play with, instead over-egging the central contradiction between what it means to be both a father and a dad, and subsequently milking it dry for whatever joke opportunities they can. What they come up with are garish physical japes and pratfalls – which serve only to beef up a constantly shirtless Wahlberg’s enlarged physicality and manliness, and opportunities for the underage kids to verbally abuse their emotionally open stepfather. Similarly malnourished is Cardellini both in terms of character development and opportunities as an actress. A woman dragged into an all-male picture, Sarah is given nothing to do other than react or ponder her husband’s infertility, which is a shame given how nimble a comedic actress Cardellini can be. Sarah is a pawn in a game she has no intention of playing, trapped in a film where the definition of manhood is the ability to assert one’s physicality wherever, whenever: something that doesn’t exactly ring true in a 21st century setting.
Ed Frost | @Frost_E