DADDY’S HOME (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic Elements, Crude and Suggestive Content, and for Language

DaddysHome poster

Directed by: Sean Anders

Written by: Brian Burns, Sean Anders & John Morris

Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Wilder Vaccaro, Thomas Haden Church, Hannibal Buress & Bobby Cannavale

Like any other big comedic actor, Will Ferrell has gone through highs and lows. His highs have been hilarious (TALLADEGA NIGHTS), hugely entertaining (MEGAMIND), and surprisingly emotional (STRANGER THAN FICTION). His lows have been bland (GET HARD), disappointing (ANCHORMAN 2), and outright terrible (BEWITCHED). DADDY’S HOME made a splash in last year’s box office and is now Will Ferrell’s highest grossing live-action film. That’s a bit depressing, because this lame comedy is nowhere near Ferrell’s best and actually falls near the bottom of his output. DADDY’S HOME is confused about whether or not it wants to be light-hearted family friendly comedy or the usual crude PG-13 Ferrell fest. The film’s tone suggests the former, while the sex/penis jokes suggest the latter. As a result, DADDY’S HOME is a dull mess that isn’t really aimed at anyone in particular.

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Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) is a dorky stepfather, who’s overly polite and a total pushover. Despite being happily married to his wife Sara (Linda Cardellini), Brad’s stepchildren Megan and Dylan are understandably reluctant to accept him as their dad. Just when doors seem to be opening up between Brad and the kids, they receive a phone call from their biological father Dusty (Mark Wahlberg). Through a misunderstanding, Dusty invites himself to visit for a week and Brad begins to engage in a full-blown “dad off” between himself and Dusty. Wild and crazy antics ensue, except they really don’t because these jokes feel a bit tame, far-fetched, and outright stupid.

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DADDY’S HOME reveals a big problem in its first ten minutes. Brad seems like a sociopath, even though the movie is trying to portray as a lovable clumsy doofus. Through his opening narration, Ferrell’s stepfather protagonist all but directly tells us that the main reason he even married Sara was because she had kids. Remember, we’re supposed to be rooting for this guy. The script also goes too far in showing us what a geek Brad is. Of course, he works at a slow jazz radio station. Of course, he has uncomfortable conversations with his boss. Of course, he keeps misunderstanding what his step-kids want from him. He’s a dork…but ain’t he lovable? Yeah, not really.

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That’s not to say that Mark Wahlberg’s character is likable either, but at least Dusty is set up as one-dimensional antagonist from the start. The film’s characters act like he has charisma that simply wasn’t evident to me and then slowly pulls back layers to reveal Dusty’s true intentions…like they weren’t obvious from the start. The underhanded tactics that Dusty uses make him completely unlikable, but Brad and Sara still keep him around out of misguided reasons. Even when Dusty invites a random guy (played by Hannibal Buress) to start living with the family, they still allow him to stay in the house…because the film wanted it that way. Dusty also accompanies Brad to work and warms up to his boss…solely because the script called for it.

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Many events in this movie only occur because the script called for them and not out from believable character decisions or a natural story flow. I know these might sound like dumb complaints for a PG-13 Will Ferrell comedy, but there has to be a level of consistency to make any story work. TALLADEGA NIGHTS was far funnier (I truly love that movie) and has more believability than DADDY’S HOME. This bland comedy simply moves from crude set-piece to even cruder set-piece and also tries to maintain a family friendly atmosphere by having the story bring would-be heartfelt messages into the final third. This mix doesn’t work because it’s not well written, particularly funny and the characters are all unlikable scumbags.

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At the end of the day, DADDY’S HOME is bland, forgettable, and not particularly funny. Adding insult to injury, this film tries to shoe-horn in a forced message about what it truly means to be a family and constantly feels like a jumbled mish-mash of two very different movies. To make matters even worse, the wife and children are merely regulated to game pieces that will be won by either scummy Wahlberg or sociopathic Ferrell. Even if it weren’t already a tonally confused mess, DADDY’S HOME would be seen as reprehensibly stupid, unfunny, and intelligence-insulting comedy thanks to a sloppy script. DADDY’S HOME might just be down there with BEWITCHED as one of Ferrell’s very worst films.

Grade: D

TRAINWRECK (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Content, Nudity, Language and some Drug Use

Trainwreck poster

Directed by: Judd Apatow

Written by: Amy Schumer

Starring: Amy Schumer, Tilda Swinton, Bill Hader, John Cena, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn & LeBron James

Romantic comedies aren’t exactly the kind of films that can majorly change over time. You have two people who fall in love with each other before encountering turbulence in their relationship that threatens to separate them before eventually reuniting and rekindling their affection for each other. It’s a well-known, often-used formula that’s associated with rom-coms and chick flicks. While TRAINWRECK doesn’t buck that decades-old trend, it happens to be directed by Judd Apatow (the man behind KNOCKED UP, one of my favorite rom-coms) and was penned and stars Amy Schumer. So with a hard R rating and crude sensibilities, TRAINWRECK should more than please couples who enjoy dirty-minded comedy with a soft side. It’s that sort of movie.

TRAINWRECK, Amy Schumer (left), 2015. ©Universal Pictures

Ever since she was a child, Amy was hammered with the idea that monogamy wasn’t realistic. As result, Amy has grown into a loose, heavy-drinking, drug-using writer working for a tabloid magazine. She’s never had a committed relationship, because she never thought that lifestyle was for her. This all changes when she’s assigned to write an article on sports doctor Aaron. Aaron is the polar opposite of Amy. He’s a conservative, nerdy guy and hopeless romantic. Somehow, Amy and Aaron hit it off well during an interview and go out for dinner. Dinner turns into drinks and drinks turns into sleeping together. Aaron has fallen head over heels for Amy and she’s trying to cope with the fact that she’s finally found someone she loves. That’s the set up and it’s not exactly hard to guess where the film goes from there, but it’s highly entertaining to watch.

TRAINWRECK, from left: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, 2015. ©Universal Pictures

TRAINWRECK isn’t exactly immune from clichés of the rom-com formula, but openly mocks them as it goes along. The screenplay is especially impressive seeing that it’s the first actual full-length narrative that Schumer has written as her past work consists of skits and stand-up comedy. It definitely helps if you like her material (and I do) as her crude sense of humor and talent both translate well onto the screen. The movie throws in a lot of fun plot details and manages to get a lot of mileage out of them. A ton of laughs come from Amy’s job at the Tabloid magazine (especially her mentoring an oddball intern) and frequent conversations with a homeless man on her street. As crude and lewd as TRAINWRECK can be, the film has a definite sweet side as well. A lot of the movie hinges on Schumer’s performance and she brings her character to the screen very well. In other hands, this character could have been downright despicable and unlikable on all fronts. However, we realize she’s a damaged woman with a lot of baggage. Watching her journey is an enjoyable experience, even when you don’t agree with her actions.

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As far as the rest of the cast goes, everyone else delivers in their parts. Bill Hader (who has been on a roll lately with THE SKELETON TWINS and INSIDE OUT) plays Aaron as someone we can sympathize with. While he’s not so much of the focus of the film as Amy is, the two have good chemistry together as a couple. Meanwhile, LeBron James is hilarious as an exaggerated version of himself. Brie Larson is great as Amy’s polar opposite sister and Mike Birbiglia is well-cast as said sister’s husband. I was surprised by John Cena’s performance. I haven’t seen him in much (besides the godawful MARINE), but Cena impressed as Amy’s ultra-sensitive beefcake fling. He’s not a huge character, but makes the most of every scene he’s given. The biggest problem in TRAINWRECK comes with pretty much every Apatow comedy of late. The running time is too long. It’s not enough to dissuade anybody from watching this movie, but there are scenes that definitely could have been removed entirely and nothing would be missed (e.g. one useless montage and an “intervention” scene that only serves as an excuse for a few cameos). It feels like TRAINWRECK definitely could have benefitted from more time in the cutting room.

TRAINWRECK, from bottom: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, 2015. ©Universal Pictures

TRAINWRECK is a dirty-minded, foul-mouthed rom-com with a heart of gold. Much like KNOCKED UP, the movie feels very honest in spite of its unavoidable clichés. Amy Schumer’s script is well-written and her performance is dramatically different from what you might expect from her. The film is definite date-night material for couples who happen to love Schumer’s comedy. You could do far, far worse in the chick flick department. Dare I call TRAINWRECK the best chick flick I’ve seen in a long time. I think I shall. If it sounds up your alley, give it watch!

Grade: B+

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