What do kids need more, a father or a dad?
That's the question Brad Whitaker asks at the outset of Daddy's Home. And while you might think they're one and the same, Brad begs to differ.
"Anyone can be father," he intones. "Not everyone has the patience and endurance to be a dad."
But it turns out Brad's only half right. A horrible X-ray accident has left him infertile. Though he dreams of being a father, he no longer has the physical ability to achieve that status. So he's done the next best thing: marrying a beautiful woman, Sarah, with two precocious grade-schoolers, Dylan and Megan.
And he's determined to become the best dad he can possibly be.
In fact, you might say Brad's a superdad. He's read all the books on being the perfect stepfather. He patiently endures the "cone zone" dropping kids off at school. He faithfully shuttles them to after-school lessons. He gladly volunteers at school, scouts and church. He's always available to listen. In short, his gentle, tender, intentional presence is about as different from the way the children's biological father acts as it could be—which is exactly why Sarah married him.
After years of Brad's steady, consistent efforts to win their hearts, Dylan and Megan are finally starting to come around. Dylan confides in him about bullies at school. Megan stops drawing family portraits that show Brad dead, on fire, covered with excrement … or all three.
It's all going quite swimmingly now, in fact, until the night the phone rings: It's Dusty, the children's wild-child alpha male father. He wants to meet Brad … and spend time with the kids, something he hasn't done since before Brad and Sarah got married.
Dusty is a former soldier who now works as a—well, it's not quite clear. But Brad's pretty sure the guy knows how to kill people. He rides a motorcycle. He knows how to use power tools. He can do pull-ups with one arm … all day … without ever breaking a sweat.
And the mere fact that Brad is now the new "man of the house" awakens all of Dusty's competitive instincts. So before you can yell "Daddy's home!" it's on: a dad-off, a no-holds-barred competition to determine whether Dylan and Megan's biological father or adopted stepdad really has what it takes to earn the right to parent them for the long term.
It's a status Brad thought he had already attained.
Daddy's Home sports a fair bit of crass content, which we'll soon start dealing with. But underneath it are several positive messages about fatherhood, parenting and marriage.
Sarah divorced the attractive and exciting Dusty largely because he was utterly unable to handle the responsibilities that came with being a parent. For her second marriage, she chose someone on the other side of the spectrum: Brad is a poster parent for sensitive beta males. He's never been in a fight, wouldn't know a hammer if it hit him on the head, and doesn't know how to ride a motorcycle. But he's absolutely devoted to Dylan's and Megan's needs. He's read all the books about how to be a good stepdad, and slowly he's winning the kids' trust and allegiance.
For his part, Dusty's motivations are largely selfish—until near the end of the movie. That's when he finally and grudgingly realizes that Brad has fatherhood skills and instincts he doesn't, and that the other man's attentive patience and gentleness are very good things for the children.
Brad, amazingly, is mostly magnanimous in his desire to ensure that Dusty still has a role in the kids' lives. And when Dusty wants to check out completely, Brad talks him back into spending important time with Megan at a daddy-daughter dance.
Brad volunteers as a leader for Dylan and Megan's Little Disciples group at church, where we see a large painting of Jesus in the background.
Dusty plays up his manliness in an attempt to steal back Sarah's heart, but she steadfastly resists his manipulations—including his barely concealed desire to bed her again.
Sadly, that's about the only good thing I'll get to say in this section. Once he knows about Brad's infertility, Dusty takes him to a world-famous male infertility specialist. The painful scene that follows involves the doctor standing in front of Brad and Dusty, both of whom have pulled their pants down for inspection. Nothing explicit is seen onscreen, but graphically crass statements are made comparing their male anatomy. Multiple comments are made in this scene and elsewhere about the size and capability of Dusty's "equipment."
Brad is in a room masturbating (to get a semen sample) when the window blinds fall down and expose him to a crowd of people having a birthday party just outside. (We see the obvious implications of his actions, but not anything explicit.) Dusty repeatedly works out sans shirt (with Brad repeatedly telling him to put something on). Sarah and another woman wear cleavage-revealing tops. Dancing Los Angeles Lakers cheerleaders wear skimpy, revealing outfits.
While drunk, Brad broadcasts the fact that he had sex with his wife. Dusty makes a wink-wink comment about being "good with his hands." In bed with Brad, Sarah offers up a cutesy comment about his testicles. Brad's boss repeatedly tells inappropriate stories about sexual conquests and crazy things that happened with his multiple ex-wives (one of whom was a stripper). A joke is made about a tampon that's in Brad's toolbox. There's also an inappropriate quip about an odd tattoo near someone's backside.
When Brad tries to be macho and ride Dylan's motorcycle, the machine sends him careening into and through the house, with the bike finally shooting back out through an upstairs wall. It partially crushes Brad's SUV and propels him headfirst through some Sheetrock, where he gets stuck.
Even more disastrous is Brad's attempt to skateboard down a half-pipe course Dusty constructs in their backyard. Brad nails it—then nails a power line, gets electrocuted and is briefly dead. Dusty revives him, and Dylan gushes, "My daddy can bring people back from the dead!"
Brad and Dusty disagree, of course, about how Dylan should handle bullies. Brad counsels nonviolent responses, but Dusty wants to teach the boy how to fight back (a strategy Brad reluctantly concedes to after confessing how much damage being beaten up by bullies did to his own self-esteem when he was young). They teach Dylan to hit hard ("punch right in the Adam's apple," Dusty coaches) and to kick his assailant in the crotch. Dylan then does exactly that to the bully—who turns out to be a girl—at the daddy-daughter dance. The young lady's dad punches Dusty in the face.
Drunk, Brad tries to throw a basketball at Dusty during a Los Angeles Lakers game, but inadvertently knocks out a cheerleader instead. Brad's second, equally errant shot, clocks a boy in a wheelchair, knocking him over.
Crude or Profane Language
At least 15 s-words. "B--ch" and "a--" are each uttered about half a dozen times; "h---," three or four times. There's one use each of the following vulgarities, crudities or profanities: "b--tard," "for cripes' sake," "p---y," "wussy," "pr--k," "butthole," "holy balls," "nuts," "d--kie" and "p---ed." God's name is misused between 15 and 20 times (twice paired with "d--n"). We hear one abuse of Jesus' name.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Once Dusty arrives, he and Brad are repeatedly shown drinking beer together. Deeply discouraged at a Lakers game, Brad downs five beers, gets drunk, and badly embarrasses himself in a half-court shot competition. Passing reference is made to someone being on "'roids."
Other Negative Elements
Spanning several nights, Dusty tells a bedtime story to the kids about the "real king" and the "stepking" in a way that obviously casts Brad in a bad light. (The stories include sexual innuendo about the relative sizes of the men's "swords" that flies over the children's heads.) Dusty also tries to undermine Brad by saying things to the kids like, "Let's be respectful of Brad's rules, no matter how arbitrary they seem." There's an ongoing gag about Brad supposedly being racist. (He's not.)
Dusty brings a ratty looking stray dog home and names it Tumor. The dog defecates on the floor, and Dusty says there's probably worms in it. Dusty holds another puppy later while it urinates off a balcony. Megan draws a family portrait showing what she says is "homeless man poop" on Brad's head. While temporarily living in his office, Brad tells his boss that the bad smell is because "I crapped in the wastebasket."
At the premiere of Daddy's Home in New York City, actor Will Ferrell (who plays Brad) told Variety magazine, "Getting to do comedy is such a unique thing, because I can work on something that has a positive impact on people’s lives."
Ferrell's made plenty of raunchy comedies over the years—Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory and Old School quickly come to mind—that are not the kinds of movies I've ever been tempted to use in the same sentence as "positive impact." But Daddy's Home just might be … albeit with some pretty big disclaimers.
Chief among those is the movie's seriously nasty—and ongoing—gag about damaged testicles. And then there's the masturbation. The isn't-it-funny-that-he's-dead violence. And the profanity. Those are the things we've come to expect from Will Ferrell's comedies.
What I wasn't expecting was a film that somehow manages, amid all that, to take fatherhood and being a stepfather seriously. Dusty mocks Brad's beta male proclivities. But in the end, the alpha is humbled when he learns firsthand the kind of sacrificial commitment it takes for a father to tend to kids' omnipresent, mundane, sometimes maddening needs.
There's a lot of "s---" to deal with, Dusty observes.
"That's what dads do," Brad responds, "is take s---."
Those two lines of dialogue perfectly encapsulate the fresh and foul smells that enter the room when Daddy's Home. It's got a good—even earnest—heart when it comes to the never ending demands of fatherhood. But moviegoers are forced to sit through a whole lot of crudity to get a glimpse of it.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Will Ferrell as Brad Whitaker; Linda Cardellini as Sarah Whitaker; Mark Wahlberg as Dusty Mayron; Owen Vaccaro as Dylan Whitaker; Scarlett Estevez as Megan Whitaker; Thomas Haden Church as Leo Holt
December 25, 2015
March 22, 2016