Often times, a movie lives or dies by the charisma of its actors. That’s why established pairs are such a safe bet, both for the filmmakers and the audience.
Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg haven’t starred in a movie together since The Other Guys (2010), but it’s clear that their prior experience with each other is what makes this movie watchable. The story is pretty simple. A step-dad (Ferrell) is starting to finally be accepted by his step-kids when their birth father (Wahlberg) steps back into the picture, challenging the step-father’s role. There is nothing special about this storyline that differentiates itself from the crowd, but it is the charisma of the film’s actors that prevent the movie from seeming to be just going through the motions.
Because the basis of the film involves a territory war between two men, the main focus of the movie is to discuss the concept of masculinity (though to be honest, isn’t that the point of any movie starring a white dude?). Ferrell’s character is loyal, but doesn’t have many of the typical characteristics associated with men. He dresses nicely, doesn’t fight and sometimes he cries, which sets him up as the perfect juxtaposition to Wahlberg’s superhuman macho man. A lesser movie would advocate for a certain toxic masculinity that would result in Ferrell having to stand up for himself in a violent way. However, the film quickly pushes past Ferrell trying (and failing) to show up Wahlberg, and the ultimate conclusion is that there are many different ways to be a man. While Daddy’s Home might not always be the most progressive film, this main point allows the movie to seem satisfactory by the end.
There is no question here that the material in question is tired, but Ferrell and Wahlberg somehow give it the energy to propel it forward. There’s not a lot within the film that’s all that funny, but there’s also not too much that’s painful to watch. At best, the movie is just sort of ridiculous. Normally, this ridiculousness would be somewhat cringe-worthy, but here’s it’s just sort of… charming.
Part of the reason for this is that the film’s scope seems small. Again, a lesser movie would have a lot of extravagant set pieces that don’t add much to the film. Daddy’s Home has very few locations, and a lot of the silliness comes from the character dynamics. Ferrell and Wahlberg are both extreme, but it’s a grounded extreme. The effects are cheap, and are there to be a service to the film rather than a distraction. The movie is a small little comedy that does exactly the job it needs to, nothing more.
That’s a particularly interesting thought because Daddy’s Home can certainly seem manufactured. The formula to the movie is wholly obvious, even down to the title. However, it follows the steps listed in the formula dutifully, and there’s even a little bit of fun thrown in the mix. The film is nothing revelatory, but it does everything one would hope it would do, and delivers it right to the doorstep.