Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, John Cena, John Lithgow, Mel Gibson. Directed by: Sean Anders.
It just wouldn’t be Christmas without a homophobe with an unsettling criminal record, and a raging racist woman-abusing anti-Semite, preaching crap about love and friendship.
Yes, A Bad Moms Christmas came and went like a fart in the wind, and now Daddy’s Home 2 comes to do the same. You remember Daddy’s Home? Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg (Dusty and Brad) are chalk and cheese men who have to learn how to co-parent their kids. Yeah, it was fine, it had a lot of broad comedy and fell into silly sentimentality. This follow up is better than the first, but not by much.
Ferrell and Wahlberg are fine; they just play to their strengths throughout. Ferrell can go from zero to one hundred in emotion intensity at the drop of a hat and he does the best with the weak and touchy-feely Brad, while Mark Wahlberg is the touch aggressive dad. Once again Linda Cardellini who is always brilliant is given the stuffy mother-wife role where she attempts to not be painfully vanilla around the other mother, the ‘cool mom’ played by Alessandra Ambrosio. The kids are all fine in their roles, and Allesandra Ambrosio as Wahlberg’s wife is a seen and not heard “writer” who is apparently a thieving idiot who allows her kids to drink booze.
Really though, the film is about the introduction of John Lithgow and Mel Gibson as the two fathers coming home for Christmas. Together they all decide to spend Christmas together for fun and jolity. And that doesn’t really come. Gibson is a troublesome human being, but not one lacking in talent, as an actor and as a director he has clear and bursting talent, his CV is filled with brilliant work, and in recent times he has taken to poking fun and making rather more poignant comments on the mistakes of his past. In fact, earlier this year his straight-to-DVD production Blood Father proved he was capable of introspection of the highest order and doing it well. John Lithgow similarly is always reliable, a comic legend as well as dramatic titan. His performances in the likes of 3rd Rock from the Sun and Raising Cain alone show the depth of his versatility, and here he plays to his affable oaf work in his 90s sitcom.
Unfortunately there really aren’t enough comic moments, and the plot just hangs thin. Actually, there is no plot, and the comic skits are all fairly flat. There’s the usual: Ferrell ends up thrown against a wall, is electrocuted, Mark Wahlberg being aggressive to everyone, as well as overly mawkish moments with Ferrell and Lithgow but what this film actually is, despite having few thoroughly brilliant Christmas moments, is a social comment.
The film is completely – and rather ruthlessly – toxic. It revels in toxic masculinity, mocking affection between men, between parents, between friends, showing Ferrell’s Brad to incapable of receiving a compliment without crying as well as Lithgow’s Don constantly asking if Ferrell is in need of the bathroom. It revels in it’s mocking of ideas of “the friend zone” another toxic ideal as well as how to win girls and that this is a moment reserved only for talking about ass-smacking and sugar tits comments. It adores looking at Mel Gibson, now haggard but tough, copping off with women a third of his age.
Meanwhile, on the front of other characters, Cardellini is left being the jealous frump (as the film chooses to be blissfully ignorant of her good looks) and a boring parent with little to do but not be as cool as the other mum (who is objectively vapid) and being utterly two-faced. Couple this with comments about how men hunt and women should just cook, and it makes for uncomfortable and unfunny viewing.
All of this aside, the film could be forgiven for just being a so-so festive offering if it weren’t for the howling misstep of a comic interlude about guns. Everyone has spoken about the gun gags in which a small child (a girl) shoots another character – non-fatally – before killing two turkeys with glee. This gag is capped with comments like “it was worth getting shot” and “next time you shoot someone aim for the centre”. Netflix’s The Punisher was criticised for glorifying gun-mad aggression in a time when unhinged white men are opening fire on people every week, which incidentally it doesn’t glorify. But this film, with it’s repulsive gags and being shot and kids with guns is so misjudged that even if recent events hadn’t happened, the Sandy Hook incident is still in living memory. Guns in the media is not a problem, making light of kids with high powered guns is.
It’s also a problem that the finale of the film ends in a cinema where Ferrell makes his cinematic spectacle speech about how it’s important to go to the cinema which makes you cringe so hard you could turn your face into a fist – not to mention the obnoxious idea that opening a cinema on Christmas Day is a good thought – no matter what faith there should be one guaranteed day to spend with family – simple as. But when everyone breaks into the big song at the end it’s hard not to love the fact that they are singing it, and that differences can and have been solved, even if the film can’t help dropping in misjudged jokes right up to the finish . But even so, and even with the appearance of the overrated John Cena (he’s no Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson), the film is half as awful as it could have been. It’s just not a family comedy, it’s a comment on toxic masculinity made by people too ignorant to realize they’re making it.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.