I try not to discuss the conditions of the screenings at which I see the films I review, for obvious reasons. But I feel like it’s only right, for the sake of transparency and instructiveness, to discuss the New York City screening of Daddy’s Home 2, which was a semipublic “sneak preview” of the film alongside the press screening, as so many of the larger studio releases are. Aside from the usual multiplex audience grievances, I also had a grown adult man threaten to “start some trouble” with me after I asked his wife if she could turn off her iPhone flashlight during the movie. (It takes a lot of tact and nerve to shush or ask anything of your fellow moviegoers, especially when the viewing experience they’re daring to sully is Daddy’s Home 2.) Anyway, this angry man loved the movie, as did the rest of the packed house, who were eating up the misadventures of Mel Gibson and Mark Wahlberg with a spoon. I say this not to denigrate them, but to note that nothing I say after this paragraph matters.
So, Daddy’s Home 2. It’s the sequel to Daddy’s Home, a modern family comedy beloved by Sofia Coppola and quietly seen by millions at the end of 2015 when everyone was paying attention to a Star Wars movie. In the sequel, whose premise is almost identical to Bad Moms sequel A Bad Moms Christmas, the Daddy versus Daddy action is compounded by the addition of two more Daddies. Will Ferrell, who plays milquetoast, minivan-driving stepdad Brad, is joined by his father, played by a glowing John Lithgow at his most effusive. When they meet at the airport, they kiss on the lips multiple times. Wahlberg, who plays bad-boy original daddy Dusty, is joined by his father Kurt, played by Gibson.
If you have seen Gibson in promotional material for Daddy’s Home 2 and recoiled, this film is not for you, nor is it interested in winning you over. Daddy’s Home 2 is aimed at the most amnesiac, uncritical segment of our population, for whom it would never occur to connect the dots between Gibson’s documented anti-Semitism and abuse of women and his character’s objectification of them here, nor scenes of children wielding firearms with recent/perpetual gun violence. It needs our ignorance to survive. But it would be one thing (and still not a great one thing) if Gibson’s casting was used to set him up as a buffoon, a laughable model of masculine overkill. Unfortunately, Daddy’s Home 2 is perverse enough to not only make Gibson the straight man, but to actually make him the audience surrogate.
There’s a scene, one of many of the film’s physically impossible comedic set pieces, in which a snowplow that Brad has turned his back on veers off the driveway of the enormous cabin Kurt has booked on Airbnb for the family over the holidays (nice endorsement, by the way) and rides a string of Christmas lights onto the roof. Ferrell and Lithgow bear the brunt of this calamity; there’s a lot of yelling and chaos and grievous bodily harm. And at the end of all the chaos, as the snowplow falls on top of Brad’s car, crushing it, we cut to Gibson, who has been absent in all this mayhem, standing by the door and cackling, holding up his phone. It is at this moment when you realize, with a shock, that Kurt is us.
This is partially because Ferrell and Lithgow are simply funnier than Wahlberg and Gibson, and are given more opportunities for buffoonery. But make no mistake: They are the cucks, and their cuckage is an object of ridicule next to Kurt’s no-BS, ass-grabbing approach to life. One particularly awful thread involves Brad and Dusty’s son beginning to have an interest in girls; Brad’s advice to be considerate of women’s feelings and listen to their problems is treated as a punch line, yet another example of a thing about Brad’s personality that he needs to fix. In comes Kurt, in his infinite wisdom, more or less paraphrasing our president’s approach to kissing women. That the son later takes his advice, albeit with an unexpected target, does nothing to condemn the alpha-beta dichotomy the film takes ample advantage of for its gags. This is a toxic, not at all benign film made for the enjoyment of everyone still oblivious to the fact that this kind of worldview is crashing down in flames even as we speak. May they enjoy it while it lasts.