DADDY'S HOME, US, 2015. Starring Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Thomas Hayden Church, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro, Bobby Cannavale, Hannibal Buress. Directed by Steven Anders. 96 minutes. Rated PG (Mild crude humour, sexual references and coarse language).
Over the years Will Ferrell has become a household name for broad American comedies, relying on his capacity for big and exaggerated characters, generally overbearing with the touch of the obnoxious – like Ron Burgundy. Mark Wahlberg on the other hand, has moved over several decades from Calvin Klein model and musician to a skill with all kinds of films, especially action films. They appeared together in the police comedy, The Other Guys.
In this film, they both play fathers – well, Will Ferrell plays a stepfather.
His character, Brad, is rather the opposite of the big, booming characters. This time, he is a very nice man who narrates the story and the place who finds himself in, having fallen in love and married Sara, Linda Cardellini, but also inheriting her two young children with whom he is desperate to bond. They feel no such desperation. When there seems to be some kind of movement, the little girl not drawing him as dead already but only being killed in one of her drawings and her brother confiding that he is bullied at school.
But, Brad‘ hopes are somewhat stymied by a phone call from Dusty, Mark Wahlberg, the ex-husband and father who decides that he will return and take over his paternal role. He barges past Brad, intrudes into the household, tries to play with everybody’s mind, but the children delighted to see him, his ex-wife not.
What follows is a series of comic episodes where the two men try to outdo each other, Dusty with the tough stance (the screenplay makes him unexpectedly articulate with a strong vocabulary in the intellectual sense, probably Special Ops), Brad always being very nice, falling into the victim role. They vie with the children’s attentions in reading a bedtime story which parallels home situation. Brad tries to ride Dusty’s bike only to find himself crashing through the house, upstairs, stuck on the wall while the bike flies out of the window, crashing and crushing the roof of his car. Dusty claims he can do the repairs and suggests that Brad fire the carpenter, a black man, Griff. Brad seems to be a racist – and then Dusty and Griff complete the treehouse the Brad was working on and Griff becomes part of the household. And so on.
Audience sympathy is with Brad, who takes Dusty to his work at a Smooth Jazz radio station when they are auditioning for talent – and, Dusty sings their identification jingle and gets the job instantly which pays more than Brad’s salary. His boss, played dryly by Thomas Hayden Church, is taken with Dusty.
One of the characteristics of an American comedy is that it can be loud, very loud, embarrassing events taking place in public, the kind of boisterous exhibitionism which can seem very silly. The big example of this takes place in a basketball arena with Brad making an extreme fool of himself. There is another scene at the end, at a daughter-father dance where Dusty is put to the test as a father, and Brad’s theory that instead of fighting, conflict might be solved by dancing. And, pleasantly, it is.
There is an amusing postscript where all seems happy ending, Brad and Sara have, more than they expected, a new baby. And Dusty has a new wife and has inherited a daughter – whose real father turns up on a huge bike and reacts to Dusty as Dusty had reacted to Brad!
Paramount. Released December 26th
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting