WRITTEN REVIEW – Daddy’s Home (2015)
Directed by: Sean Anders
Written by: Brian Burns, Sean Anders & John Morris
Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg & Linda Cardellini
Music: Michael Andrews
Release Date: December 26th 2015
It’s a well known fact that the heart of comedy comes from two things; misery and competition. Whether it’s from the classics like Laurel & Hardy, Tom & Jerry, Spongebob & Squidward etc. these two timeless story-traits are a well-worn device of comedy that’s not even close to drying up. As a result, the premise of ‘Daddy’s Home‘ is ripe for comedic-deconstruction; the step-dad has to impress his new family when their much cooler, more intimidating biological father comes to visit. With the perfect casting of Will Ferrell as the new dad and Mark Wahlberg as the perfect specimen original, this could work.
The only uncertain element is director Sean Anders. Despite bursting onto the scene with the criminally underrated ‘Sex Drive‘ and writing the brilliant ‘Hot Tub Time Machine‘ and the adequate ‘We’re The Millers‘, he’s also behind the dire ‘Mr Popper’s Penguins‘, ‘That’s My Boy‘ and ‘She’s Out Of My League‘. Despite managing to find regular comedy work as both a director and a writer, Anders is far from a sure-thing. Is the end result a fun comedy for Christmas (despite not being Christmas-themed) when the stars are seemingly all ready to align?
Brad (Ferrell) is a mild-mannered radio executive who has just started to become accepted by the children in his new marriage to wife Sara (Cardellini). Despite not being able to father his own children, Brad has whole-heartedly embraced his new life. But one day, Sara’s ex and the children’s biological father Dusty (Wahlberg) comes to visit leaving Brad feeling inadequate in the face of the physically perfect, seemingly friendly and incredibly talented competition. Brad needs to find a way to top Dusty and not lose the affections of the family he’s worked so hard to earn.
The premise is strong for a low-brow comedy and I think it says something that Sean Anders, the director of ‘Daddy’s Home‘, is also directing the ‘Mean Girls‘ sequel ‘Mean Moms‘ indicating that he clearly has an interest in disputing parental figures. It’s also a relatable subject matter for not just Dad’s but for any partner in a relationship who feels like they can’t compete with an ex or a friend. However, in regards to actually digging into the themes and creating something other than an occasionally low-brow comedy with lots of slap-stick and extensive, improvised dialogue set-pieces, ‘Daddy’s Home‘ seems to stumble. There’s “heart-warming” parental talk thrown in haphazardly as more of an obligation to the setting, but it’s clear that the movie’s heart isn’t really in it. It feels like a missed opportunity to make the movie more than just a dumb, fun comedy.
But make no mistake, as a dumb, fun comedy ‘Daddy’s Home‘ is pretty darn good.
The laughs are plentiful with even the opening credits delivering lots of sight-gags and a most of those laughs come from the cast’s natural chemistry, or more specifically the chemistry between Ferrell and Wahlberg. I don’t mean romantic chemistry (but wouldn’t that be a fun twist?) but the fact that they’re clearly comfortable improvising and working with each other to get as many laughs as possible. Despite 2010’s ‘The Other Guys‘ not being a particularly strong buddy-cop movie, Ferrell and Wahlberg did prove themselves a strong comedic duo (as well as a Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and they’re both on fire here with roles perfectly catered to their skills as actors.
Brad’s character suffers from “have every other character tell the audience how great he is as opposed to letting his actions speak for themselves” syndrome (very common) but the fundamentals are solid. He’s an every-man who is a bit of a push-over but tries to make things work with his family. It’s a role that Ferrell can play in his sleep. We also have Wahlberg as a character whose “deal” you can’t quite get right away. One natural trait of Wahlberg’s as an actor is that he can look entirely sincere and empathetic even when he’s doing the most terrible of things. As a result, it means that you can’t tell if Dusty really is trying to be nice to his family and Brad or if this is part of some sort of scheme. It creates an interesting dynamic between the two and this is a rare comedic case of perfect, natural casting actually enhancing the material.
That’s mainly for the first half, however as ‘Daddy’s Home‘ feels like it drags a lot longer than it should despite the fact that many plot elements in the second half feel under-developed. When watching the movie it felt 2+ hours long but it’s actually is a brisk 96 minutes which is around the ideal run-time for a comedy. This indicates that (from my perspective) something wasn’t quite working with the editing and many of the scenes feel a lot longer then they are and the movie needed a brisker pace. Particularly towards the end when the movie really should be developing the characters for the ending instead of adding more and more set-pieces including a random Christmas-In-April sequence (probably only there to cater for the December release-date) and a basketball game. At the end, when Dusty is meant to fulfil his arc, learn his lessons etc. it races by and feels very inadequate. They could have developed this vital element more had they economised the set-pieces and re-arranged their priorities. It means the ending is dramatically un-fulfilling despite Will Ferrell speechifying to the camera about how tough it is to be a dad. Despite how funny ‘Daddy’s Home‘ is, it doesn’t earn that ending.
It also feels like, many of the slap-stick set-pieces came first on a conceptual level as opposed to un-folding organically within the story. For example, Dusty builds a skate-park behind Brad and Sara’s house, but how on earth he managed to afford that or even get the tools to build it overnight stretches the credibility. What follows is still a fun sequence (where professional skater Tony Hawk acted as Will Ferrell’s stunt-double) but it does give the viewer pause-for-thought.
The rest of the supporting cast are decent with strong child performances from Brad and Sara’s children, Linda Cardellini is good but severely under-written (but who cares as she’s just the mother, amirite?) and as fun as Thomas Haden Church is as Brad’s boss, he feels superfluous and you could have cut many of his scenes. Oddly enough, the stand-out supporting actor is Hannibal Buress as Griff who initially only seems to exist for a well-worn “You’re firing me because I’m black?” gag but actually ends up sticking around for the rest of the film to deliver many of the biggest laughs. Also, without spoilers, ‘Daddy’s Home‘ ends with one of the most gut-bustingly funniest cameos of 2015 and the worst part is that I can’t even hint at it or explain why it’s so perfect without diluting the surprise or its impact.
But the element of competition at the core of the premise with ‘Daddy’s Home‘ is its key selling point and as the conflict escalates (frequently to the point of ridiculousness) it’s hard not to just go along for the ride, enjoy all the laughs, the many improvised dialogue sequences and have a fun time. While the movie feels like it needed another pass or two through an editing suite, it’s a very funny movie that offered continual laughs throughout its run-time for myself and my screening. Sometimes that’s enough.
In terms of its production, ‘Daddy’s Home‘ does enough to make it feel like a big-screen movie but it doesn’t go much further than that. The biggest gripe is that it feels over-edited as there are very few shots that linger and allow the actors to riff with each other at-length. Obviously when actors improvise you need to edit around any dull material and make it fit together and splice the different takes, but when there are so many cuts in what should be a smooth-flowing dialogue sequence, it becomes very noticeable.
But the slapstick is effectively done, the movie does manage to stage its frequent dialogue sequences in engaging locations and some of the comedic cuts are pure gold (like a “Cut to Wide” shot during a dialogue sequence between Ferrell and Haden Church that absolutely killed my screening). It hardly impresses on a production-level, but it’s worth a movie ticket price.
‘Daddy’s Home‘ does’t have much ambition or desire to explore the parental themes it sets up which makes it come across as a slight missed opportunity (particularly the fact that the mother, played by Linda Cardellini seems to have zero influence on the events of the movie). However, a lot can be forgiven when a movie is this funny and the two leads have proven comedic chemistry with each other. It feels a bit long, but Ferrell and Wahlberg are very well cast which makes up for a lot of the slower, drawn-out segments. Sometimes, being gut-bustingly funny can overcome a lot of issues. Though, naturally with comedy, your mileage may vary.
I give ‘Daddy’s Home‘ 3 stars out of 5.
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Posted: 2nd Jan 16