It must be a requirement for Hollywood to put out bland, family-themed, and completely forgettable meditations on parental relationships this time of year. Add Ferrell’s “Daddy’s Home” to this list, a film so unremarkable that not even Sunday afternoon TBS is going to pick it up. When you are competing with so many other movies coming out Christmas week, why wouldn’t the studio release this after Thanksgiving? Apparently the only criteria for viewing this is to be so stuffed full of food that you’ll fall asleep before you realize you actually paid to see this potato. Even worse, there are some serious flaws in the family-friendly message being delivered.
A mild-mannered radio executive strives to become the best stepdad to his wife’s two children, but complications ensue when their freewheeling and freeloading real father arrives, forcing him to compete for the affection of the kids. (Synopsis by Paramount)
To be fair, for what this movie intends to be it is moderately successful. Stepdad (Ferrell) and biological dad (Wahlberg) play competing father figures and spouses to the same mom and kids. Their back-and-forth competitions are funny in a cute, “America’s Funniest Home Videos” kind of way. The comic bits are predictable set-ups, but still get enough laughs. Most of the focus of the story is on the relationship between the kids and their two dads. That last sentence actually sounds like it would make a more interesting movie than “Daddy’s Home.” Can someone greenlight “The Birdcage 2?”
One of the major thematic problems is that the audience has a hard time believing or connecting with any of these characters. “The Birdcage,” while ahead of its time in terms of kid-father(s) relationships, made you believe that there was something real between the characters. You felt the actual concern and love when the characters interacted. The fathers simply cared about their son and wanted the best for him. In contrast, the script for the kids in “Daddy’s Home” has them bouncing back and forth between the dads based on who is winning at the different contests used as comic vehicles. No real connection between the kids and adults ever materializes or is felt by the audience. The kids serve as nothing more than a vehicle to stroke the egos of the two men competing to be “The Father.”
That’s the bigger problem. For a film that opens with a monologue specifically addressing what it means to be a dad as opposed to a biological vehicle, the fathers act only in self-interested ways. Who can out-do who to “win” the child’s favor in a given moment? At no point does the kids’ desires ever get addressed. Isn’t that the point of being a dad (or the supposed theme of this film)? Taking care of the little humans you are responsible for before your own ego? Even at the end when both father’s decide to work together to salvage a school dance for their daughter (it’s that cliché), the focus is solely on the father’s perspective. Neither one of them pauses long enough in their own competition to consider what the little girl is thinking or feeling outside of their own competition.
This didn’t need to be some deep think piece about the child-father relationships, but the resolution of the fathers’ conflict falls flat when the entire film has been a measuring contest at the expense of the kids they supposedly care about. The writers get halfway there, but rather than resolve the ego trips, they simply shift them to trying to out-do each other with kind platitudes instead. The lesson: kid, you are just a pawn in your parent’s power struggles. Maybe that isn’t so far from the truth for some families these days.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: Skip it. Stifle your passive-aggressive hatred for the child you despise by buying them a terrible Christmas present. Like tickets to this movie.
ONE AND A HALF STARS out of four.
Directed: Sean Anders
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, crude and suggestive content, and for language