Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Daddy's Home

DADDY’S HOME (Sean Anders, 2015)

As a relatively new stepfather to two kids in DADDY’S HOME, Brad Whitaker (WIll Ferrell) wants nothing more in the world than for the children to accept him as a paternal figure. It seems that his relationship with Dylan (Owen Vaccaro) and Megan (Scarlett Estevez) is finally reaching that point. Dylan wants to speak to him about his problems with a bully, and Megan asks him to accompany her to a father/daughter dance. When the kids’ biological father Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) calls Sara (Linda Cardellini), their mom and his ex-wife, to say that he’s coming for a visit, she resists the idea, but Brad welcomes the opportunity for him to maintain a role in Dylan and Megan’s lives.

It doesn’t take long for the mild-mannered, smooth jazz radio executive to understand why Sara expressed concerns about inviting his cool, fit counterpart into their house, yet Brad continues to give Dusty the benefit of the doubt even when he’s actively undermining his authority at home and upstaging him at work. Their competition for the affection of the kids escalates to absurd measures. More critically, it strains Brad and Sara’s marriage, which was Dusty’s intention all along.

DADDY’S HOME seeks to mine a stepfather’s insecurities and desire for total acceptance in a family in the way that MEET THE PARENTS found humor in wanting to impress future in-laws. While Ferrell’s Brad starts on a firmer foundation, he’s like Ben Stiller’s MEET THE PARENTS protagonist in that both face off with hostile, more stereotypically masculine men fending them off as perceived interlopers. Brad’s situation may be more specific than one about the universal anxiety in wishing to gain approval from a significant other’s parents, but what he struggles with is not significantly different than any outsider striving to get inside a group.

The opportunities to satirize the degrees to which an adoptive and biological father will passive-aggressively and nakedly combat for supremacy are seemingly countless, yet DADDY’S HOME contains about enough ideas to fill a film trailer. Although there’s some amusement in expected scenes of gift-giving one-upmanship and handyman prowess or lack thereof, the film lacks imagination. Dusty’s less showy efforts to erode Brad’s reputation, like his insinuations of racism, tend to be funnier than the more obvious gags.

The film’s stylistic tug of war is waged between the heart-warming, all-ages comedy it wants to be and the nasty streak residing in the hearts of its adversaries. DADDY’S HOME feels as though it’s restraining Brad and Dusty from unleashing hell on each other and, in its relative politeness, mutes the humor in their clashes. Ferrell has his moments as he tries to be a good sport while being humiliated. Wahlberg can be funny playing a caricature of male ruggedness and unflappability. DADDY’S HOME just doesn’t let them run as wild as they could and suffers for it.

Grade: C

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