Nobody really pays attention to certain kinds of movies, and that’s a problem. Every movie is an entire wold unto itself. Every one has its own reality, its own implicit philosophy and morality. And with millions of people at least seeing each one, that morality matters.
Daddy’s Home tells the story of a broken family recently made whole by new husband and stepfather Brad Taggart (Will Ferrell). An overly enthusiastic adoptive parent, Taggart has trouble getting his young stepchildren, Sarah (Scarlett Estevez) and Dylan (Owen Vaccaro), to accept him. To make matters worse, upon learning his ex-wife Sarah Taggart (Linda Cardellini) has re-married, her intimidating first husband, Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg), unexpectedly returns to mark his territory.
Hustle. Loyalty. Respect. These are all things a father/daddy/whatever you want to call a child’s male role model must have. When your kid is playing on the railless balcony, you’ve got to be quick to get them off. When someone thinks your dad skills are particularly sexy, you’ve got to think of your wife first. When your kid decides to spend your hard-earned money studying a go-nowhere degree, you’ve got to be able to deal with that. Though the long-term responsibilities of being a parent are touched on, this movie has a lot of ideas on fatherhood, but never really addresses these core attributes.
In reality, this purely commercial movie exists only to reunite Ferrell and Wahlberg after 2010 hit The Other Guys. The duo have palpable chemistry — only because Wahlberg is willing to sink to Ferrell’s level — and whatever else is or isn’t going on in this movie, it’s nice to see them together again.
Necessarily, the movie gets them together early and keeps them together. Wahlberg shows his highly underrated acting chops in this movie as a skilled operator who can weasel his way into any situation, a skill Mayron displays in the first few scenes when he gives Taggart the slip at the airport to get some alone time with Sarah, then turns Taggart’s attempt to set boundaries into an invitation to stay the week.
As an addendum to the movie’s daddy issues, Daddy’s Home doesn’t treat Sarah well at all. It makes a legitimate question out of whether or not she can control herself around Mayron — no one can control themselves around Mayron — but also, it doesn’t give her a lot of control over Taggart. The joke is Taggart is an idiot who is OK with his wife’s magnetic ex in the house, but it overlooks the part where she tells him she’s not OK with Mayron in her home. As the woman they fight over, she’s kind of trivial as a character.
Moreover, the mvoie’s views on women in general are a bit old-fashiond, to put it nicely. Taggart’s boss, Leo (Thomas Haden Church), is constantly telling him inappropriate, vaguely misogynistic stories about his ex-wives. In the end, it turns out Dylan’s bullies, whom he’s been instructed to punch and rack, are girls, who only pick on him because they like him and acquiesce to his advances immediately. They go through the whole “you can’t hit girls” and “it’s OK to assault people you have a crush on” acts, two separate societal problems rooted in overly simplified childhood lessons.
Immediately after convincing Taggart to let him stay, Mayron takes his masculinity by forcing him to mess up on a motorcycle and takes his bond with Dylan by usurping their tree house.
Slapstick sequences from this leg of the movie make up its main body, unfortunately. Slapstick simply hasn’t been funny since the age of the Three Stooges, and Daddy’s Home does nothing to change that.
Joined primarily to these sequences are the movie’s mostly toxic ideas on masculinity. In addition to portraying Sarah as a manipulable wench who will go for the manliest man instead of the man she loves, the movie has characters that know she will and get caught up in the standard dick-measuring contests. Who has more muscles, who wins more bread, who’s a better fighter — they’re all the issues at play here.
On top of giving the wife no agency, Daddy’s Home gives the kids a similar dynamic. Those are the factors who determine who the best father is, as well. Hustle, respect and loyalty don’t come into play. It’s all about who’s the strongest and most attractive. The film paints fatherhood entirely as a chore, and fails to highlight the long-term rewards of raising a child.
Near the end of the movie, Mayron also tries to go after Taggart’s biological masculinity. A dental accident when he was young left him sterile, and Mayron turns the dick-measuring literal by playing on Sarah’s desire for a third child.
Certain now that his family is at stake, Taggart goes on a display of financial and thoughtful peacockery, the exact kind of thing that ends challenged movie marriages. From the fight about how much his doting cost to his drunken basketball tomfoolery, this last, flavorless leg of the movie is painfully predictable. All hope simply must be lost for the ending to mean anything, even when the turning tables make little sense.
Enduringly predictable, this hopeless turn of events gives way to a dance-off climax that endorses Taggart’s passive, conflict-evading, take-as-many-beatings-as-you-can style of parenting and marriage. Everybody’s happy with everybody, there isn’t even a climactic fight. The weak ending of Daddy’s Home is sure to leave a bad taste in viewers’ mouths.
Naturally, the movie’s ultimate idea of fatherhood is a complete, heavy-handed surrender from Mayron, who doesn’t have the patience to be involved in his children’s lives, even though he apparently develops it over the course of the movie. Basically anyone would prefer Mayron as a role model, but the movie paints that as entirely less important than attending PTA meetings and providing a meal ticket, things he is clearly capable of. A major aspect of human life is reduced to a simple binary, because nobody really cared about this movie or saw it as more than a Will Ferrell comedy. It’s not really surprising or disappointing, but still sad to see.
And yet, with two capable characters, the question of who gets to be called Daddy of the Year is still in doubt. If you really want the answer, read the first letter of every paragraph.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. I want my charger and spare battery, and I want them now! I’ve had a change of heart in regard to reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.