I’m “biast” (con): hated Daddy’s Home; this one looked worse
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
I was going to skip Daddy’s Home 2. The first one was appalling, and did not demand a sequel, and this one looked worse. Life is too short, even for a film critic, to give in and see every idiotic movie. But then a critic friend asked me to attend a press screening with her — you know, as moral support — so I did. As my self-sacrificing good deed for the day. And I’m actually glad I ended up seeing the movie after all. Not because it’s good: dear god in heaven, no. But because it is so abysmal, so amoral that I would never have believed it could be this awful without having seen it for myself. Daddy’s Home 2 isn’t just appalling, as its predecessor was. It’s actually dangerous.
I am especially worried about this now that the film is doing so well at the box office, and with audiences: it has already more than earned back its production budget in the US, and it’s a hit in the UK; it has garnered a Cinemascore (which polls US moviegoers on opening night) of A-. Daddy 2 is going to be playing well through Christmas (the fact that film is set at Christmastime helps, too). If the movie had flopped, I probably would’t have bothered to write this review. But I feel an urgent need to warn the unsuspecting: This is not a movie for children. This is not a fun multiplex outing for the whole family, unless your family is the Trumps. What passes for humor here goes well beyond the typical mindless array of slapstick pratfalls and humiliations galore of characters who are supposedly meant to be sympathetic. All those things are bad enough. But Daddy 2 reaches disgusting new depths of coarseness, actively engaging some of the very worst instincts our culture is embracing at this terrible moment. Here is some of what passes for humor in this movie:
• an adult slut-shames a child
• a child accidentally shoots someone with a hunting rifle
• a man tells a “dead hooker” joke to children
• a man instructs a boy on the “friend zone,” as if that’s a real thing
• a man instructs a boy on how to grope girls
• gay panic involving children
• children getting drunk thanks to parental negligence.
These are not things children should be exposed to, and they are not the stuff of family entertainment. And these are mere throwaways! But the baked-in ideas that Daddy’s Home 2 believes are worth celebrating are even worse.
The sitcom antics of the first movie – for those lucky enough to be unaware of the story — involve a biological dad, Mark Wahlberg’s (Patriots Day, Deepwater Horizon) Dusty, and a stepdad, Will Ferrell’s (The House, Zoolander 2) Brad, learning how to share paternal responsibilities toward gradeschoolers Dylan (Owen Vaccaro: Fun Mom Dinner) and Megan (Scarlett Estevez); their mom is Sara (Linda Cardellini: The Founder, Avengers: Age of Ultron), Dusty’s ex and Brad’s new wife. Dusty is a stereotypical tough guy, all leather and motorcycles and toxic masculinity; Brad is a caricature of soft and squishy and touchy-feely, so “naturally” they have no choice but to compete with one another for the children’s affection. (As if the kids couldn’t love them both.) The men do finally reach an accommodation, and as Daddy 2 opens, we’re meant to find it hilarious, for some reason, how well they now get along. Getting along with another dude ain’t manly.
Concerns about maintaining appropriate levels of manliness are all over Daddy’s Home 2, which opens with, explores, and concludes with the notion that it’s better to go overboard in the direction of toxic masculinity rather than the girly-man one, just to be safe. Daddy 2 relitigates the conflict of it predecessor by bringing in Dusty’s and Brad’s own fathers, who are even more extreme versions of their sons. Dusty’s dad, Kurt (Mel Gibson: Blood Father, The Expendables 3), is an ex-astronaut, which writers Sean Anders and John Morris (both returning from the first movie; Anders [Horrible Bosses 2, That’s My Boy] returns as director) appear to believe is the manliest occupation possible. (No one tell them that there are lots of women astronauts.) Kurt is an apparent sex addict, picking up random women for sexual escapades while he is ostensibly spending a family Christmas with Dusty and his grandchildren and the extended family (also including Dusty’s new partner, Karen [Alessandra Ambrosio] and her tween daughter, Adrianna (Didi Costine)]. Kurt appears to be as misogynist as Gibson himself is, though thankfully the movie refrains from bringing in Gibson’s antisemitism and racism. (Anders may be saving this for Daddy’s Home 3.) Brad’s father, Don (John Lithgow: Miss Sloane, The Accountant), is, well, yer basic cuddly grandpa: a sweet, kind man whom the kids love (even though he’s not even their bio-grandpa) because he tells silly grandpa jokes and is just a friendly teddy bear.
Here’s the thing: Daddy 2 positions Kurt as the villain, but the movie takes Kurt’s side on everything: on his disdain for Don and Brad’s overt affection for each other, for Don’s kindness and enthusiasm for being part of a big family. There is nothing in the least bit exaggerated about Kurt — his brand of male awfulness is seen in the wild daily — but the movie has to invent extremes for Don to highlight him as ridiculous, such as his use of baby talk with the clearly adult Brad. And the movie lets Kurt swagger along spouting his awfulness with no pushback at all beyond a few demurrals from the other adults if the kids are listening (but plenty times not even then). But Don: he is the butt of much of the film’s violent slapstick. Why is it funny that the grandfather that the kids actually like — and not the creepy one who probably stinks of booze all the time — keeps getting whacked in the head by snowballs that knock him flat? Don is depicted as a big dumb lumbering ineffectual overemotional dolt, and abuse is heaped upon him because of it. (Brad comes in for similar treatment, again.) Kurt is depicted as a real man with some rough edges, and the kids come to love him without him changing anything about himself at all. WTF?
After all this, Daddy’s Home 2 has the outrageous nerve to serve up a meta helping of “It’s just a movie, chill out.” The shenanigans end up at a multiplex on Christmas Day, where everyone watches a shitty seasonal Liam Neeson action movie called Missile Tow, which is probably actually coming to a theater near you soon, because who can distinguish the real movies from the joke ones anymore. Missile Tow also features children in situations children should not be in and a shoveling-on of sticky sentiment that, in all likelihood, has not been supported by 90-some minutes of movie that came before it. Just like Daddy’s Home 2!
I swear to god, Hollywood is just straight-up trolling us these days.
• Daddy’s Home movie review: floundering fathers