I referred to the 2015 Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg comedy, “Daddy’s Home,” as, “an easy-going comedy with two very funny men at its center.” I went on to write that, “even if the movie doesn’t break new ground or explore new territory, it’s great fun.”
Now we have the sequel, “Daddy’s Home 2,” and it again doesn’t break any ground. That’s fine, but it is also somewhat less fun, and that’s not as good. The movie isn’t without fun, “Daddy’s Home 2” is certainly successful in moments, but it is a sequel inferior to the original.
The best way to explain the movie and it’s larger strengths and weaknesses is to talk about a scene near the end of the film. The characters—Dusty (Mark Wahlberg), Brad (Will Ferrell), Sara (Linda Cardellini), Karen (Alessandra Ambrosio), and all the various kids—are stuck in a movie theater on Christmas. They don’t all want to be there together but circumstances have required it. At one point, the power goes out and tensions flare, but soon enough Brad begins to offer up a bit of heartwarming inspiration and… it works.
Here’s the thing though – the entire sequence feels horribly cynical. The very attending of a Christmas Day movie feels like an in-movie ad for going to the movies (maybe even this one) on the holiday. It is pitched as a place that can bring people together, as a way for folks to have fun even when things are going badly.
Movies are, naturally, manipulative beasts but this particular manipulation seems too overt, too crass. Watching it unfold, I put up my defenses, irked by the entire charade. And yet as ready for it as I was, during the inevitable, majestic, Kumbaya moment, I got chills up and down my spine.
This is how the entirety of “Daddy’s Home 2” functions. It is obvious. It is manipulative. It is silly. Somehow though one leaves the entire experience with, perhaps, a little bit more happiness than when they entered the theater.
Chalk this up to the power of cinema.
Directed by Sean Anders, and with a script from Anders & John Morris, “Daddy’s Home 2” is easily described as a mundane sequel, one perfectly happy to rehash the entirety of the first movie and maybe toss in a few new actors to lessen some of the familiarity. From the start of things, step-dad, Brad, and dad, Dusty, have a simmering tension. They may be able to get past it, but it’s there. So, added into the mix is the arrival of both of the men’s fathers, with John Lithgow as Don, Brad’s father, and Mel Gibson as Kurt, Dusty’s father.
These two new characters are written as little more than extreme versions of their sons. Kurt is more of a man’s man than Dusty and Don more in touch with his emotions than Brad. Naturally, the two older men don’t get along all that well (mostly stemming from Kurt) and Kurt is more than a little angry at Dusty for agreeing to any sort of co-parenting. He sets out to rile up Dusty and Brad, to see the sparks fly, and the whole film stems from the renewed conflict.
Yes, the kids may have their own stuff going on, and Sara and Karen have some issues as well, but that is all secondary. The kids’ bits score more laughs than the Sara-Karen story, but even so, the resolutions to the issues are disappointing.
In fact, very little of “Daddy’s Home 2” is funny. There are some laughs, generally from Brad or Kurt being hapless or something mean-spirited occurring, but even those have a been there/done that feel.
However, despite all that, despite the shortcomings, I still got a tingle running up and down my spine during the climactic scene, and I still left the theater with a warm feeling in my belly. All this even though I felt the manipulation taking place.
photo credit: Paramount Pictures