In the new comedy Daddy’s Home, Will Ferrell plays Brad Whitaker, a loving, doting stepfather who takes pride in raising youngsters Megan (Scarlett Estevez) and Dylan (Owen Vaccaro) with wife Sara (Linda Cardellini). They’re the children he wasn’t able to father naturally due to infertility.
Brad’s been at it for years, but it’s never easy. At the outset of the film, he’s ecstatic when Dylan opens up and finally comes to him for advice.
But when bad boy biological dad Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg) shows up in town and immediately garners all the love and attention Brad so desperately craves, stepdad Brad is demoted to a bench role.
This, I thought, was surprisingly deep and complex subject matter for a Will Ferrell comedy, and a situation that must be familiar to a good number of the film’s viewers, whether they identify with the kids or the parents.
Farrell’s Brad is a genuinely lovable good-guy dad, at least at the film’s outset, the kind any kid should be proud to call their father, regardless of genetics. The story of how Brad ultimately wins his affection of his young stepchildren, while coming to terms with the fact that he can never truly replace their biological father, might make for touching subject matter.
Of course, this is also a Will Ferrell comedy, directed by the guy who previously made Horrible Bosses 2 and That’s My Boy.
You know what that means: a dad vs. dad rivalry full of slapstick violence, machismo posturing, drunken debauchery, a present-buying competition for love, and the kind of sitcom contrivance that results in bad dad Dusty actually living with the new family years after bailing out on his wife and kids.
It ends with an upbeat dance number, and I guess that all the complex stepdad issues the film has previously raised have been resolved. Waitaminute… yes, indeed they have, the film explains to us via epilogue shortly thereafter.
But maybe I’m expecting too much out my Will Ferrell comedy. Daddy’s Home is what I’d call amiable, with two emphatic lead performances that give the script everything they’ve got. Ferrell is more grounded here than usual, and while Wahlberg’s character is a sleazeball and an irresponsible father, he’s got undeniable charisma. By the end, we kinda like him too.
But Daddy’s Home is never all that funny, unless you find the sight of Ferrell’s character, trying to impress the kids with some of his old skateboarding moves, gets too much air off the half-pipe and flies up into some power lines, electrocuting himself and hitting the ground with a thud. Walhberg’s bad dad uses the moment to educate the family on safety procedure. Hah, hah.
Get Hard, the other Ferrell-headlining big screen comedy released in 2015, contained more genuine laughs, as ill-received as it was. So did A Deadly Adoption, the Ferrell-Wiig true-blue Lifetime movie that wasn’t even supposed to be a comedy (or was it?)
I don’t think Ferrell gets enough credit for the chances his takes with his comedy, but Daddy’s Home is one of his safer and least remarkable outings, nearing dangerously close to Eddie Murphy Daddy Day Care territory. Stick with The Other Guys for your Ferrell-Wahlberg fix.