Delivery Man works surprisingly well. Like something of a throwback to the nineties “overgrown manchild” comedy about slackers honestly trying to pull their lives together, Vince Vaughn’s latest effort is disarmingly sincere. It isn’t plotted particularly well, and there are points where Delivery Man threatens to unspool if you think about it too much, but this adaptation of Canadian comedy Starbuck has its heart in the right place and manages to deliver a nice sentimental comedy without every becoming overwrought or overly earnest.
Delivery Man is the story of Dave, a good-natured if somewhat incompetent meat delivery man who discovers that – due to a clerical error – he is the biological father of 533 children. When he discovers that the children are trying to uncover his identity, Dave panics and tries to fend off the legal action. Dealing with his own family issues and debt problems, Dave simply isn’t in the right place to cope with these children searching for the man who donated sperm over six-hundred times to the local bank.
Inevitably, Dave comes into contact with his kids. He finds himself striking up a connection with them. Some enjoy long conversations and life-altering encounters with the tall stranger who walks into their lives, while others barely cross paths with the man whose donation made them possible. Along the way, there are hijinxs and jokes, but also a considerable amount of introspection and soul-searching from Dave, as he makes contact with all these young adults.
Delivery Man is a weird film, if only because the branding and premise make it sound like some awkward laugh-a-minute comedy. Delivery Man is wonderfully funny in places, but it’s also a lot more. There’s a surprising amount of sincerity in the film, and a sense that the movie is actually interested in the implications of its premise – the responsibilities and obligations that come from being a parent, and the variety of emotional responses that come with that.
This really shouldn’t be so much of a surprise. Dave is a genuinely likeable character. Sure, he’s as inept and self-sabotaging as any overgrown manchild, but there’s an endearing happy-go-lucky quality to Dave. This is the sort of character Vaughn used to play, the charming but ineffective life-of-the-party, the guy who sincerely meant well for everybody but was absolutely inequipped to deal with the demands of everyday life. Dave is charming and Vaughn does well in the role – it’s hard not to like the character, despite his poor judgement. There is a sense that he tries.
In a way, that seems almost quaint. Over the past decade or so, many comedies have tended to focus on selfish and stupid immature adults. There’s a point where an inability to properly understand and meet the reasonable expectations of other people morphed into something approaching sociopathy – think of the manchildren played by Zach Galifianakis or Will Ferrell, who are typically more notable for their sparse moments of empathy than for an abundance of goodwill towards other.
In that sense, Delivery Man feels like a welcome throwback to the sort of nineties comedies that propelled Adam Sandler to fame as a well-intentioned young man with difficulties meeting his obligations. The more heartfelt and endearing moments of Delivery Man feel like an attempt to channel something that has been lost in the shuffle of mainstream comedy. There are a few wonderful passages in Delivery Man where the movie trusts itself enough to stop being a comedy, allowing the drama to carry the movie for a few minutes here and there. No biting irony, no cynicism, just good old-fashioned sincerity.
There are problems. Most obviously, Delivery Man relies quite heavily on contrivance. There are any number of plot elements that really require the audience to just go with it. Outside of that, the script is remarkably cluttered. Important characters are introduced and featured, and then side-lined for extended periods. There are several points where the audience will legitimately wonder “but what does [random character] make of this?”
The script allows characters to wander in and out of focus. It’s arguably forgiveable in the case of the movie’s sample of Dave’s 533 children, but it’s less forgiveable in the case of Dave’s girlfriend. Dave’s relationship with Emma drives a lot of his character arc, but that character arc is significantly undermined by the fact that she’s barely a presence for significant stretches in the middle of the film. Delivery Man has a lot of ground to cover, and the movie strains to fit it all into its 104 minute runtime, but it seems like the movie might benefit from a stronger focus on Emma.
Still, these are minor complaints. Delivery Man feels like an affectionate tip-of-the-hat to an early breed of “overgrown manchild” comedy, and makes for a suitable sincere and unashamedly sentimental feel-good comedy.