In Daddy’s Home, Will Ferrell plays Brad Whitaker, a successful, kind and overly sensitive new husband to a slightly younger woman (Linda Cardellini) and the stepfather to her adorable two kids. Just as Brad’s stepdaughter and stepson finally warm up to him, their motorcylce-driving, biological dad Dusty (Wahlberg) rolls back into town, clearly intending to reclaim his family. It’s step-dad vs. dad. Beta male vs. alpha male.
It’s the type of movie (read my review) where when Will Ferrell is accidentally electrocuted Mark Wahlberg turns it into a teachable moment for his kids, walking them through the step-by-step process of what to do in such a situation even though every second they waste could mean Ferrell’s death. It’s also the type of movie where every time Will Ferrell’s macho boss (Thomas Haden Church) talks it turns into a long speech about his improbably storied and sexually adventurous life, and you never know if the long walk toward the inevitable punchline is going to be worth it. It’s a hit-or-miss comedy.
But for all of its obvious exaggerations and inconsistent laughs Daddy’s Home remembers that there is an inherently awkward element to the biological father-step father dynamic, both for the parents and the kids. This is familiar territory for Ferrelll after the far more cartoonish Step Brothers. By comparison, Daddy’s Home takes itself more seriously, and that might be because of this:
1. It’s inspired by one of the screenwriter’s real life experience as a new stepfather
Daddy’s Home is credited to three writers – Brian Burns, John Morris and Sean Anders (who also directed) – but the sole story credit goes to Brian Burns. That’s because when he became a new stepfather he realized:
“I was also going to have to a very close relationship with their real dad and right from the get go it was apparent that he and I were just complete total polar opposites. I would say to my wife ‘no part of me understands how you were married to both of these people.’ So that was sort of the beginning of it all.”
2. He got the idea when his stepdaughter asked him who she should ask to take her to the daddy daughter dance
The film’s remarkably effective climax occurs at the school’s daddy daughter dance, which is actually introduced at the very beginning of the movie when Brad’s stepdaughter asks her to take her to the dance to which he openly weeps much to her discomfort. That, too, was based on Brian Burns’ reality, “I was tucking my stepdaughter in and she was asking me who was going to take her to the daddy daughter dance, me or her real dad. I was really struck by that.”
3. The intent was definitely to make a comedy about two dads who ultimately put their differences aside in the best interests of the kids
Part of what makes the film’s daddy daughter dance sequence so effective is that it marks the moment when Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg’s characters finally come together to jointly support the kids. That was always the goal, as per Burns, “These two guys would be opposites and they certainly would have their differences, and I knew there was going to be a lot of fun in reducing them to children themselves and having them act like idiots, but ultimately getting to a place where they each realize that they need each other—that the two dads would be better than one.”
4. In the early stages, they weren’t sure if Will Ferrell would play the badass biological dad or sensitive stepdad
It might seem surprising to hear that, especially since with Mark Wahlberg around it seems remarkably obvious which characters they’d play. However, in the beginning Wahlberg was not attached to the project, and they went through one draft of the script thinking Ferrell would be the cool guy, not the straight-laced nice guy. By the second draft, however, “I think that had been discussed maybe he [Will] should be Brad.”
5. Will Ferrell is the one who suggested Mark Wahlberg should play the badass biological dad
Once they decided Will would play Brad, they needed someone for Dusty. The suggestion ultimately came from Ferrell, “Will was the one who suggested that Mark [Wahlberg] would be a good idea for Dusty.” I had assumed this movie started out as a Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg joint project, like maybe they’d always been looking for the right script to use to team up again after The Other Guys. However, it seems as if their reunion came about somewhat more organically as opposed to them seeking out the opportunity.
6. The director thought the gag with the motorcycle might be too ridiculous
At my sold-out Christmas day screening, the gag which easily elicited the most laughter was when Will Ferrell jumped aboard a motorcycle and suddenly and quite spectacularly crashed it through his own house. The kicker is that he improbably survives the encounter, but is thrown off the motorcycle and into the wall of the upstairs bathroom, complaining of pain while Dusty rather calmly tells kids to view this as a lesson on what not to do.
It’s a scene that almost didn’t make it in there because the director thought it might be a bit too much:
We loved the idea of Will would feel insecure in wanting to be one of the guys on the motorcycle, but we knew that the audience is going to know the minute that Will gets on that motorcycle that he is going to wipe out [or] some crazy dumb thing is going to happen. We thought what are they [the audience] not going to know what is going to happen… and we ultimately came up with this idea of Will being stuck in the bathroom wall [and] not only the bathroom wall, but the upstairs bathroom wall.” Anders adds, “in every movie where somebody gets massively hurt and then they go he’s okay or I am okay [it works], but it’s funnier if he doesn’t say I am okay; No I’m hurt and I am scared [is better]. I got wildly insecure about the scene because it’s so ridiculous and I felt like I have to go and face Will Ferrell. [However.] Will said, oh…I was really looking forward to being stuck in the wall.”