The latest effort from Will Ferrell, who appears to be becoming increasingly comfortable with the prospect of sleepwalking through the rest of his career, Daddy’s Home rarely rises above the odd chuckle. That’s enough of a death knell for a comedy in and of itself, but even worse than that is the film’s mangled tone. Seemingly unsure of its target audience, it embarks on a confused parade of crass jokes that creep just up to the line of adult humour but never quite cross it.
Directed by Sean Anders (Horrible Bosses 2, That’s My Boy) from a script by himself, two-time Primetime Emmy Award nominee Brian Burns (Entourage, Blue Bloods) and John Morris (Dumb and Dumber To, Hot Tub Time Machine), Daddy’s Home follows Brad Whitaker (two-time Golden Globe Award nominee Ferrell; Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, The Other Guys), a kind and over excitable man striving for the perfect family with his wife Sara (Primetime Emmy Award nominee Linda Cardellini; ER, Avengers: Age of Ultron). Brad is desperate to bond with Megan (Scarlett Estevez; Lucifer, And Then There Was You) and Dylan (Owen Vaccaro; Mother’s Day, A Product of Me), his wife’s two young children from a previous marriage, and he comes close to realising his dream of the perfect family unit until the children’s biological father Dusty (two-time Academy Award nominee Mark Wahlberg; The Fighter, The Departed), a commitment-phobic, slick haired man who oozes charm, returns to attempt to win back his ex-wife.
Daddy’s Home is a wildly inconsistent movie, one that makes an incredibly poor first impression. It’s opening scenes are unbelievably bland, and play more like a “funny”commercial than a Hollywood motion picture. It’s only when Wahlberg’s Dusty arrives on the scene that things get mildly entertaining.
If the movie does one thing wrong above all else, it’s that it tries too hard. Too much of the humour comes off as forced and the modus operandi of the script seems to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the wall and see what sticks. The result is an uneven, often irritating display of hit or miss humour that errs on the side of miss most of the time.
As if to compensate, the film often employs cringe comedy, but without the suitable approach to it. The writers seem to think just putting Brad in an awkward situation and having him say and do things that dig the hole deeper is hilarious, but they fail to make much of it humorous at all, just uncomfortable.
Ferrell’s Brad is particularly problematic. His personality and demeanour are borne out of a desire to provide Wahlberg’s Dusty with a foil, an opposite to face off with, but it turns out the antithesis of a tough greaser guy isn’t particularly interesting. Ferrell plays the character as a weird cross between Frasier and a children’s performer and the result is a bland protagonist, who fails to compel even though his motivations are entirely relatable.
Wahlberg is far more consistent in the role of Dusty and it’s from him that the film mines most of its more successful comedic beats. He does everything he can to sell the hackneyed jokes, and he finds a number of great moments to focus on among all the flotsam and jetsam. His faux-friendly, passive aggressive interactions with Brad are the film’s strongest scenes, and he sells the character in a way where you never root for him or hate him.
More than that though, the film’s supporting cast are its MVPs, holding up the script when it falls flat. Of particular note is Cardellini, who is handed the most thankless role in the film. She’s there to react to the antics of her husband and her ex, a duty that doesn’t give her a lot of chances to stretch her comedic muscles and rarely gives her much of an opportunity to take center stage. She’s quietly brilliant throughout though, offering a sane point of view in the maze of jealous madness surrounding her, and it’s her who establishes the best connection with the audience.
Also great are Estevez and Vacarro, the young actors who play the kids. There’s a cutesy charm to the characters and a naturalistic bent to the performances that most of the other actors fail at, and the movie probably would have been more successful, at least on an emotional level, had they been given more screen time.
My favourite part of Daddy’s Home was a character called Griff (Primetime Emmy Award nominee Hannibal Buress; 30 Rock, The Kings of Summer). He’s a plumber Dusty befriends, and he just turns up at random points throughout the film to make some aside about the events at hand and then leave again. I’ve thought a lot about why this character is so successful, and I’ve come to the conclusion that he is essentially the film’s spackle. He distracts from the cracks and flaws in the movie’s façade and frequently serves as an odd sort of audience surrogate, offering a kind of metatextual commentary on the film itself. The fact that the element of the film I liked the most is the one most removed from the movie’s reality itself is telling. I can’t recommend Daddy’s Home. It has its moments but it’s lazy, content to go through the motions, and it wastes a talented cast on an hour and a half of thoroughly generic material that fails to engage for the majority of its runtime.