I’ve been writing professionally about film and pop culture for about a dozen years now, and I can distinctly remember the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in a movie theater: at the screening of the December 2012 Tom Cruise film Jack Reacher, which had the unfortunate timing of being scheduled a few days after the Sandy Hook massacre.
In that theater, watching a movie about snipers and assassinations and shootings, I felt physically ill thinking about what had happened in Connecticut only a few days before. I remember how quiet the audience was, and how we all seemed to be eerily still. Jack Reacher had the further, terrible distinction of being subtitled One Shot. It is not a movie I think I could ever sit through again.
I felt that same uneasiness again this week, when I sat through Daddy’s Home 2 in a somewhat-full screening in the Baltimore suburbs. When I saw the first Daddy’s Home in 2015, it was an afternoon screening in December that was so packed when I showed up a few minutes late, I had to be that asshole who squirms past an entire row of people to find that one empty, broken, stained seat that no one else wanted. But this time around, things felt different. Just that weekend, there had been another mass shooting that left dozens dead. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen famous man after famous man, across a variety of industries, accused of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. It was Election Day, and already it seemed like things were turning more blue in neighboring Virginia and throughout the country. And Daddy’s Home 2, with its aggressively stupid masculinity, its lazy sexism and ethnocentrism, and its crappy subplot about children enjoying shooting guns and developing a sort of hunting-induced bloodlust, didn’t go over quite as well with the audience I was in. And you can blame that pretty much on Mel Gibson.
There has already been a lot written about how surreal it feels in 2017 to have Gibson fully back in our pop culture sphere, and although we obviously saw this coming when his film Hacksaw Ridge was nominated for a number of Oscars last year, I was still caught off-guard by how phenomenally ill-conceived his character in Daddy’s Home 2 is. This entire movie is basically about Gibson, who plays the distant, unloving, astronaut pilot father of Mark Wahlberg’s reformed badass Dusty, and whose trolling of the characters in Daddy’s Home 2 essentially drives the entire narrative. He’s presented as an alpha male who immediately turns all other men into betas; he’s praised and heralded by almost everyone he meets; women can barely keep their pants on when he’s around; and he is the living embodiment of every garbage attribute of every garbage person who has been gloating since the 2016 election. He fucking sucks.
Here are some awful things this “family-friendly” movie lets Gibson’s character Kurt do:
• Lambasts the idea of co-parenting, mocking Dusty and Will Ferrell’s Brad over and over again for wanting to be “progressive”
• Asks of Brad, “Did they take your balls?” when he purchased his minivan
• Starts telling a joke about hookers to children
• Is disgusted that Dusty would let Brad give his son “the talk,” instead insisting that it’s an opportunity to “teach your son how to score”
• Tells his tween grandson that if he likes a girl, he should just do whatever he wants to her: “Slap your spaghetti suckers right on her and slap her on the caboose!”
• Encourages his grandchildren to request guns for Christmas from Santa Claus
• Calls Brad “Mr. War on Christmas” because he says “Happy Holidays”
• Refuses to buy a Christmas tree, instead bullying his son into feloniously cutting down one from public lands
• Implies, over and over again, that by Dusty and Brad being friends, they must be gay
• Encourages his young granddaughter to go hunting, and is impressed when she accidentally shoots him before slaughtering some turkeys
• Laughs at drunk children
• Thinks a movie-inside-the-movie, where Liam Neeson and his children work together to kill “godless motherfucker” terrorists, is a good Christmas choice
Gibson’s Kurt dominates every scene he’s in, stirs up shit constantly, and never sticks around long enough to take any responsibility or shoulder any blame. And yet the film is totally enthralled by him—Dusty yearns for his affection and approval; Brad is inspired by his bravado and braggadocio when figuring out how to change his own relationship with his father, played thanklessly by John Lithgow; and the narrative allows him to waltz out at the end totally unscathed. No one calls him on his shit. All of his terrible suggestions turn out to be “right” within the logic of the film. And ultimately Daddy’s Home 2 seems to be taking the line, “He cares about his family, he just shows it differently than the rest of us!” as a way of pretending the character isn’t a pile of trash turned sentient and mobile.
The original Daddy’s Home had a B+ CinemaScore, and it clearly did well enough financially to warrant a sequel that could afford both Gibson and Lithgow. If this one does well, too, do we get a Daddy’s Home 3, or a spinoff with opposites Gibson and Lithgow chasing women together, which is how Daddy’s Home 2 ends? All of these sound like nightmare scenarios that would fit in with our currently darkest timeline. But I have to hope that the discomfort I felt during Daddy’s Home 2 was shared by the other people at the screening who didn’t laugh at children accidentally shooting adults, or at Curt’s pro-Christmas mania, or at the homophobic way the movie treats a boy waiting in line to kiss another boy standing under mistletoe. Is that so much to ask for this holiday season?