Directed by Sean Anders. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell, Mel Gibson, John Lithgow, Linda Cardellini, John Cena, Alessandra Ambrósio.
While watching this film in the cinema a few evenings ago, I was quite unaware of the critical slating it has widely been receiving. It wasn’t as if I expected its reviews to contain effusive praise or anything; a quick glance at the cast members and a cursory awareness of the premise is more than enough to rule that out. It isn’t hard to see that this isn’t the sort of thing that the bookish cinephiles who contribute film reviews to respectable publications go wild over.
The thing is, though, this is actually quite funny. Certainly too funny to deserve a miserable 18% on Rotten Tomatoes. What’s going on, then? Is a bit of humour not enough to afford a family comedy some element of artistic validity? Well, no, because this is 2017, boys and girls, and there are some things that we are simply not allowed to laugh at anymore.
Some background. Dusty (Wahlberg) and Brad (Ferrell) share fathering and stepfathering duties for a litter of children whose biological parentage varies broadly, Brad having married Dusty’s ex-wife (Cardellini). This dynamic engendered animosity between the two in the first film, but at the outset of this sequel the two are thicker than thieves, and are quite enjoying their shared parenting roles.
The challenge to this cheery situation comes when each man’s father arrives on the scene for Christmas. Don (John Lithgow) is Brad’s father, and is even more bubbly and emotionally expressive than his son. It is Dusty’s father Kurt (Gibson), however, that really ruffles feathers; the feathers of both his fictional counterparts on screen, and the very real folk who have denigrated this film mercilessly since its release.
While Dusty is proudly masculine, Kurt is unabashedly chauvinistic. He tells lewd jokes to children, relentlessly objectifies women and treats the kind of emotion displayed by Ferrell and Lithgow as a distasteful oddity. He admonishes his son for allowing his children to be raised by another man, and hands one of said children a rifle and encourages her to murder a wild turkey. He embodies a worldview that, according to many, should have died out decades ago. And he’s comfortably the film’s funniest character.
The storyline is ultimately unimportant; the bizarrely structured family spend Christmas in a ski lodge that Kurt books on Airbnb (in a product placement tour de force). The usual tropes abound; improbable occurrences fuel disagreement and conflict, and everyone must find a way to settle their differences in a suitably festive manner. Some of the jokes are excellent, others are poor. John Lithgow’s abject silliness is quite funny, but neither Wahlberg nor Ferrell benefits from material good enough to really showcase their talents. It may not be groundbreaking comedy, but it is certainly enjoyable.
More than making you laugh, though, this film should make you hopeful. Hopeful that there are still people in the world, and especially within Hollywood, that are not afraid to step on the toes of political correctness in the name of comedy. And hopeful that the likes of Mel Gibson’s unlovely Kurt will still be allowed to offend whomever they please through the silver screen for many years to come.