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Non-Review Review: Daddy’s Home

Daddy’s Home is fairly mediocre comedy, despite the promise. In some respects, the film recalls very successful Will Ferrell vehicles. The premise of the film is fairly solid, with father and step-father competing with one another for the love of their children; it loosely resembles a middle-aged version of the awkward immaturity that made Step-Brothers such fun. The film features the unlikely comedic team of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, two actors who had played very well off one another in The Other Guys.

The problem is simply one of calibration. Daddy’s Home struggles to pitch itself at the right level, never finding the right balance between sincere and cynical. It seems trite to complain that the protagonists of a modern comedy are unlikable or unsympathetic, but Daddy’s Home never feels like it finds an emotional core. This is not a fatal flaw of itself, but it becomes a problem when Daddy’s Home cannot supply a steady stream of laughs.

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Daddy’s Home finds Will Ferrell cast in the role of Brad Taggart, the over-eager step-father who found himself left impotent after a dental mishap. Brad finds himself a divorced mother of two, Sarah, and proceeds to slowly assert himself as the loving patriarch of their family. Daddy’s Home spends its first ten minutes working to establish Brad as a character, but fails to add any sense of nuance or humanity. Ferrell tries to pitch Brad as irritatingly sincere, but the script casts him as something of a creep.

In contrast, Daddy’s Home makes much better use of Mark Wahlberg as Dusty Mayron. Dusty is Sarah’s ex-husband and the biological father to Brad’s two step-children. Dusty is presented as an eccentric larger-than-life figure, the walking and talking embodiment of all of Brad’s insecurities; he seems to walk around with his own soundtrack of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck playing in the background. Wahlberg manages to pitch Dusty as just the right blend of outwardly charming but uncomfortably sleazy. The film struggles to balance Brad’s character traits.

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Much is made of Brad trying to endear himself to his new family, trying to win over the love and trust of his step-children. However, Daddy’s Home is unable to find an emotional centre to these scenes. Instead, the film opts for easy and predictable jokes. Brad takes awkward pictures of himself when his step-son asks him to have a father-son conversation; Brad tears up when his step-daughter asks him to attend the “daddy-daughter dance” with her. Although the film is trying to make Brad seem goofy, he frequently comes across as creepy.

This causes problems for the film. There is never a real sense that Daddy’s Home recognises just how cynical and manipulative Brad is behaving. The movie consistently portrays him as a victim; if anything, the movie suggests that his problem is that he is too emotionally sensitive to others. Indeed, the final act of the film goes so far as to suggest that Brad’s insecurity and uncertainty is a fairly common response when people are presented with a challenger or a usurper in the home.

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This feels somewhat cheap, as if Daddy’s Home is unable to recognise what makes Brad so creepy. There is a sense that a lot of the film is off-balance or ill-judged, trying to awkwardly shoe-horn Brad into the role of both straight man and eccentric character; Daddy’s Home seems to want Brad to seem more grounded than his rival, but cannot resist the urge to exaggerate him into a broadly-drawn character and turning Daddy’s Home into a contest between two extremes rather than a straight man and a foil.

It is entirely possible to construct a comedy with an unlikable protagonist. Will Ferrell has historically been very good at this sort of thing. Step-Brothers comes to mind, as do films like Anchorman or Talladega Nights. However, it becomes more difficult to balance that cynical brand of comedy with any real emotional sincerity. Daddy’s Home is fundamentally about two fathers fighting over their shared children; there are decidedly real emotional stakes underpinning the high-concept comedy around them.

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Neither Brad nor Dusty are the protagonist of Daddy’s Home. The closest thing to a truly sympathetic character in the entire film is that of Sarah, the mother who watches the men in her life engage in a rapidly escalating game of one-upmanship to win the love of her children. The problem is that Daddy’s Home is completely oblivious to this fact. Linda Cardellini is completely underused in the role of Sarah, the script never developing the character into anything more than a witness to the madness unfolding around her.

While this is the most fundamental issue with Daddy’s Home, there are others. The film struggles to land its jokes, often going for the easiest laugh or over-extending a punchline. The supporting cast – including Thomas Haden Church and Hannibal Buress – do the best that they can do in underwritten roles, but director Sean Anders struggles to keep the laughs coming. For a film that runs just over an hour and a half, there are surprisingly few belly laughs to be had.

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Daddy’s Home has a solid premise and a talented cast. It just doesn’t manage to do much with either.

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2 Responses

  1. I’m wondering if I saw a different version than yours since the movie I saw was about an hour and a half. I thought they explained his insecurity in the boxing scene that made Brad more understandable than creepy.

    Also, although I felt for the wife, I felt that a lot of the conflict between the two men could have been avoided if she stepped up to be the go between, instead of pitting her current husband against her ex. I enjoyed it and the laughs were pretty solid, even though some were predictable.

    • Good catch on that. I’ve corrected the comment on the runtime. I meant to type an hour and a half, but I may have been typing up another review at the same time and got my wires crossed slightly! Apologies!

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