What is it with movies like Daddy’s Home? Why is there a demand for inane comedies that are crude, offensive, populated by characters that aren’t even remotely authentic or even likable, and shockingly shallow? Have people truly deluded themselves into believing that this kind of material is entertaining? As much as I hate sounding like a bitter, puritanical prude, there are only so many tasteless movies I can watch and keep hold of my tongue. This is doubly true when such movies are clearly not intended for younger audiences and yet are being marketed towards them.
The screening I attended was at least a third populated by children under the age of ten, despite the fact that the film – rated PG-13, it should be noted – contained several four-letter words, cruel displays of emotional manipulation, and a sequence in which a fertility doctor grabs hold of both Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg in a very intimate area.
in 2010, Ferrell and Wahlberg co-starred in Adam McKay’s The Other Guys. Their pairing was in great part why I thought it was one of the year’s funniest films; despite being an odd couple, they had exquisite comedic chemistry, so much so that it it reminded me of teams as revered as Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, and Martin and Lewis. In the case of Daddy’s Home, produced by McKay, Ferrell and Wahlberg are so at the mercy of an unpleasant and hopelessly manufactured plot that their being together comes off as nothing but awkward. I realize that they have both appeared in raunchy comedies, Ferrell especially, but for the life of me, I cannot imagine what it was about this particular project that attracted them to it, especially since both have children.
The plot involves two men – one a father, one a stepfather – vying for the affections of the children they share. Despite a tidy and mechanical conclusion, the film repeatedly proves that the extremes they both resort to makes them entirely unfit for parenthood. The stepfather is Brad Taggart (Ferrell), a exec for a smooth jazz radio station. He’s so wholesome and cheerfully optimistic that it reeks of desperation. Indeed, it’s explained via his opening voiceover narration that he had dreamed of being a father ever since he could remember, so of course he would take it badly that he was sterilized several years ago when a dental X-ray machine was pointed at the wrong area of his body. The father is Dusty Mayron (Wahlberg), a muscle-bound, tough-talking biker dude with sketchy military connections and a suspicious social circle.
Despite the fact that Dusty abandoned his kids due to fear of responsibility, he nevertheless comes back into their lives and immediately does everything he can to get Brad out of the picture. Dusty’s methods involve a great deal of emotional manipulation. He will, for example, make Brad believe that it’s racist to [not] fire the black contractor hired to complete the kids’ backyard treehouse – and then he will make Brad feel guilty for going through with the firing, resulting in the contractor (Hannibal Buress) crashing at Brad’s place right along with Dusty. Brad will eventually lose his composure and try to gain the upper hand, but not before Dusty involves himself in the Taggarts’ effort to conceive a child of their own.
This is bad enough as it is. Making things worse is the fact that the none of the other characters in this family drama are developed in such a way that we can care about them. First, we have Brad’s wife and Dusty’s ex, Sarah (Linda Cardellini); rather than act as a responsible voice of reason, she instead steps back and lets these men act like immature idiots. The best the filmmakers can muster for Sarah are a few fleeting moments in which she shakes her head in disbelief. And then there are the kids (Scarlett Estevez and Owen Viccaro); both characters are so shallow and easily coerced, it’s as if the filmmakers have no respect for children in general. And haven’t we gotten past the antiquated notion that it’s funny for young characters to swear like adults?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen movies in which basically sound concepts are altogether ruined by spectacularly bad execution. Daddy’s Home is yet another example. I like the idea of a father and stepfather fighting for parental supremacy. I even like the idea of making it a comedy. But simply stringing together vulgar lines and sophomoric sight gags isn’t going to cut it; only by finding an underlying truth can it truly be considered a comedy. There’s absolutely no truth to the characters in this movie. They’re nothing but cutouts acting goofy for cheap laughs. What depresses me is that some audiences enjoy that kind of thing, even young ones. Leaving the screening room, I was disheartened to overhear a boy no older than six telling his father that he enjoyed watching the Viccaro character kicking a fourth-grade girl in an effort to defend himself. This is not merely a bad movie, but a sign of where humanity is at right now.