FILM REVIEW: Daddy’s Home a loving look at modern fatherhood to redeem Ferrell and Wahlberg
Those of us who struggled to sit through Get Hard and Ted 2 definitely had our patience with Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg tested in 2015. Nevertheless, loyal fans of this unlikely comic duo will be happy to see the two actors back on form with Daddy’s Home, which reincarnates the competitive yet ultimately loving brotherhood they brought us in 2010’s surprise hit, The Other Guys.
The basic premise of Daddy’s Home sees doting step-father Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) finally making some progress as he tries his damnedest to be accepted by resistant step-children Megan and Dylan. The game changes completely, however, when his wife (Linda Cardellini)’s irresponsible ex-husband Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg) suddenly reappears in the family’s lives after years of absence, expecting to reclaim his place as the man of the household. The question of what’s more important – a biological father or an active ‘dad’ – is posed at the opening of the film, and is handled with humour and sweetness in equal measure as the two men scuffle for the position of patriarch through a series of hilarious scenarios.
Cagoule-wearing, impotent Brad works at the brilliantly conceived ‘The Panda’ smooth jazz radio station, volunteers at every extra-curricular school activity under the sun, and teaches his kids that it’s better to settle a fight through dance than with violence. Meanwhile, Dusty – described by his ex-wife as “like Jesse James and Mick Jagger had a baby” – alternates between being topless and wearing a leather jacket at all times, worships his Indian Motorcycle, and believes a man’s primary duty is that of a protector and provider.
As we’d expect, the two must undertake such tests of their masculinity as a skateboarding contest, a treehouse building challenge, and a fertility examination, while the other requirements of a dad are also assessed; who is better at putting the kids to sleep, or teaching their son about standing up to bullies? Who, in the end, is the better dad?
Through all of this, Daddy’s Home fails to – or perhaps chooses not to – deliver on any singular climactic moment. Instead of a monumental bust-up between the two leads, the joy of the film revels instead in the smaller scale details. Brad’s love of his practical Ford Flex, his job at The Panda, and his choice of reading material (Step By Stepdad), for example, when pitched against Dusty’s overblown peacocking and what we assume to be a background in the special forces, provides the source material for enough uproarious one-liners to carry the whole film. And with a 12A rating, the comedy is kept in check in a way that Get Hard or Anchorman 2 could have benefited from. There are of course plenty of laugh-out-loud physical jokes, too – the most memorable of which involves a motorcycle and drywall – plus a show-stealing supporting role from Hannibal Buress as the overstaying houseguest Griff.
Ultimately, Daddy’s Home excels in its own philosophy that the true meaning of fatherhood lies not in the grand gestures, but rather in the day-to-day, from the school run to the daddy-daughter dance. It is in these moments that Brian Burns (Entourage) and Sean Anders (We’re the Millers)’ writing is at its peak, as the film just about avoids the fully blown stereotypes of nerd and jock, and achieves two well observed men so fully rounded by the film’s conclusion that they cause us to question: with dads like these, who needs moms?
Where we might expect Dusty to alienate his family by messing up, he must instead find his place with them by stepping up, competing with Brad on his playing field of a more modern approach to masculinity and fatherhood, entailing emotional sensitivity, listening, understanding, and just ‘being there’. As Brad explains, “Most of what dads do is take shit”. It’s this message that elevates Daddy’s Home from a forgettable slapstick to something with lasting effect, akin to Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy, or Jim Carrey’s Liar Liar. Let’s hope there’s a chance of a Mommy’s Home in the near future.
Daddy’s Home hits theatres in the UK this Boxing Day, December 26th.