Directed by: Sean Anders
Premise: Will Ferrell plays a mild mannered stepfather struggling to bond with his wife’s children. Their biological father, played by Mark Wahlberg, returns and attempts to reinsert himself into the family.
What Works: Daddy’s Home is an example of two recognizable actors playing to their public images and doing it well. Will Ferrell has several acts that he regularly trots out depending on the movie and here he uses his beta-male suburban dad shtick. But Ferrell is a lot better here than usual. One of Ferrell’s pitfalls is his tendency to turn his performances up to eleven and he can be quite shrill. In Daddy’s Home, Ferrell finds the right speed; his character is almost pathologically nonaggressive and attempts to diffuse conflict among his family and coworkers. But he is also a genuinely good person and Ferrell allows that aspect of his character to emerge rather than smothering it in the comedy. Unlike a lot of his roles, Ferrell character in Daddy’s Home is actually likable and his performance puts the audience on his side. Wahlberg is also quite good as the masculine biological father. The character walked away from fatherhood when the children were infants but he returns to reclaim his patriarchal role by being the fun and cool dad. Something Wahlberg does well, but isn’t often given occasion to do, is playing manipulative characters. In Daddy’s Home, Wahlberg’s character walks all over the stepfather not by intimidation but by using suggestion and misdirection. But the fatal flaw of Wahlberg’s father figure is that he finds domesticity claustrophobic and he panics when it comes time to do the menial tasks of fatherhood like driving kids to school or packing their lunches. Wahlberg plays that tension well and gives the last part of the movie an effective dramatic element. That’s one of the standout things about Daddy’s Home; the film has something recognizable and substantive at its center. This film takes on the issue of divorced families, the diverted allegiances of children, and the competition among father figures and does something comic but satisfying with it. Daddy’s Home is consistently funny and even if it the laughs are not huge they do come frequently enough that the film remains entertaining throughout.
What Doesn’t: The filmmakers of Daddy’s Home struggle to define the kind of movie that this is supposed to be and who it is for. A lot of the picture is comfortably within the realm of family friendly PG antics with the story taking the tone of a domestic television sitcom. But at times the film also has comedy bits that are solidly PG-13 and sometimes veer into R-rated territory such as a fertility clinic sequence and the relationship advice given by Ferrell’s boss, played by Thomas Haden Church. The uneven tone of Daddy’s Home may not matter that much to older audiences but parents watching with their kids may find it to be a frustrating experience. Daddy’s Home is also compromised in its regard for the wife, played by Linda Cardellini. The story inherently sets her up as a trophy for the two men to compete over. On one hand, the movie does address that problem with Cardellini’s character speaking up at critical points and getting exasperated with both of the men in her life. But her role as the voice of reason is split with a handyman played by Hannibal Buress. His character is inserted arbitrarily in the story for some non-sequitur humor and Buress is quite funny but he ends up taking away from Cardellini’s role and diminishes her importance in the story.
Bottom Line: Daddy’s Home is one of the better comedies that either Will Ferrell or Mark Wahlberg have been involved in. The movie is quite sitcom-like but it is consistently funny and it is ultimately satisfying in exactly the way it intends to be.
Episode: #576 (January 3, 2016)