I love comedies. I love the light-heatedness of them. I love knowing that I’m going to sit down and watch a movie and that by the time it ends, everything is okay to be okay. There is something exceptionally comforting in that. The thing is though, I rarely laugh at them. I am comforted and I am amused, but I don’t really laugh all that much.
Hitting theaters Christmas day however, is one comedy where I laughed a whole lot – “Daddy’s Home.” Directed by Sean Anders, “Daddy’s Home” reteams Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg who previously starred opposite one another in “The Other Guys.”
Here, Ferrell is Brad, a rather ordinary, every day, sort of suburban dad, or step-dad. Married to Sarah (Linda Cardellini), Brad has taken on the fatherly duties as Wahlberg’s Dusty is off goodness knows where doing who knows what. Upon learning that Sarah is married to someone else; that someone else is raising his children, Dusty hightails it back home and attempts to reclaim his family.
If that all makes it sound easy and obvious, it’s because “Daddy’s Home” is pretty easy and obvious. It is an entirely predictable plot, but the affair manages to remain fun despite its predictability. Comedies have a tendency to shake up the established order over the course of the film but, before the credits role, bring everything back to normal (or a vaguely new normal).
The shake up is why “Daddy’s Home” works. We see Brad and Dusty continually try to one-up each other, with Brad—foolishly—playing into Dusty’s strengths. Brad finds himself unable to admit his lack of motorcycle skills, his lack of carpentry skills, his lack of fighting skills. Slowly but surely, Brad falls into despair, being repeatedly bested by Dusty in a series of larger and larger mishaps.
We know these mishaps are coming, we know that Brad is going to fail miserably along the way, but the movie still finds good jokes in those moments. Ferrell and Wahlberg though are in top form as the characters travel down that well worn path. Over and over again they make the audience laugh, and laugh hard, even when everyone knows what’s coming.
One of the other strong elements in “Daddy’s Home” is its heart. The journey of the film, in no small part, is a questioning of what it means to be a father, especially in this day and age. Is it merely a biological construct, or is a father a person who is there for you day in and day out, regardless of biology?
More broadly, the movie asks about the definition of family. Dusty and Brad both only see family in the traditional sense – if Brad is there as the male role model, Dusty has little place, and vice versa. Dusty wants Brad gone from the home, completely, and to reestablish what he sees as his spot at the head of the household. Brad takes a slightly more nuanced look at it, believing that as a biological father Dusty has a place in the family… just a place far away, one where cards get sent on birthdays and the holidays.
At first glance this may make it appear as though Cardellini’s Sarah is relegated to a very static, very passive, part. This sense is only enhanced as one of the subplots in the film is Sarah’s wanting a second child with Brad incapable of fathering children (Dusty, we know, is not). The argument, as Dusty sees it, is the ability to be a biological father by itself gives him the place of primacy.
Crucially, however, Sarah does get her say in the fight between Dusty and Brad, which gives her some agency. It is not enough to make it a really three dimensional role, but is better than where the film seems headed at times.
The supporting cast includes Thomas Haden Church as Brad’s boss, Bobby Cannavale as a fertility expert, Hannibal Buress as a handy-man, and Scarlett Estevez & Owen Wilder Vaccaro as the two kids. Each of these actors is given their moment to shine, and each delivers laughs all their own.
In the end, “Daddy’s Home” is exactly what it looks like – an easy-going comedy with two very funny men at its center. They are surrounded by equally amusing individuals and even if the movie doesn’t break new ground or explore new territory, it’s great fun (but, with a few off-color jokes, maybe not entirely family fun).
photo credit: Paramount Pictures