We like to think the best for our fathers; that they’ll be able to surmount any obstacle, and beat any task. As we get older, we realise, they’re only human, and in a lot of ways just like you. Still in the in-between, we often wager about our father’s strength, even if we have no intention of them proving it. In 2018, the age-old question of whose dad could beat up the other dad was put to the test. Along with the disastrous yet hilarious consequences that occurred when this playground scenario was taken too far, in Father of the Year.
Two college graduates, Ben and Larry, visit their hometown before heading to start their careers in New York. A night’s drinking turns into the classic debate of whose dad would win in a fight. The contestants are Wayne, the father of Ben, a professionally unemployed drinker, who’s colour-blind, drinks a lot, and has been in six fights, in total. Or Mardy, a pacifist who works in a lab, and avoids confrontation in all forms, even with his eight-year-old stepson. When Wayne finds out about the issue and doesn’t like how he came out in the hypothetical, he takes matters into his own hands. Unaware of the life-altering implications this bout will have when proven real.
In breaking with established norms, we have a Happy Madison film with Adam Sandler’s name nowhere near it. It is a liberating change, as with Sandler’s absence, so are a lot of the conventional trappings that have become de rigueur for the company. Product placement is noticeably reduced, and some gags retain their crude shock value, but not in the ways of other Happy Madison films made before. There are some returning faces, notably David Spade, as opposed to playing the straight-laced but henpecked Charlie in The Do-Over, here he portrays Wayne differently. With a New England tinge, and a noticeably cheaper lifestyle, it does a lot to show off Spade’s range. Taking up the mantle of Mardy is Nat Faxon. Mardy is practically a pushover, turning avoiding confrontation into an art-form, with hilarious results.
A lot of the charm comes from the eccentric characters in the small New England community, each portrayed by a talented cast, but no offense intended, they’re not exactly the star-studded line-ups that typically star in Happy Madison films. This can be seen in Ben and Larry’s hometown friends, Nathan and PJ, who feel like they haven’t moved on that much from high school. Outside the friendship group, you have memorable characters like the old lady who blackmails Ben into building her a new pool; Larry’s stepbrother, Aiden, who is a grade-A jerk to his father; Olivia who has a crush on Larry, who in the middle of finding himself, takes a temporary position at his father’s lab, And, of course, Meredith, the woman Ben has a huge crush on.
The Happy Madison charm does not fall far from the tree, even with the noticeable changes. The celebrity-laden extravaganza is replaced with more grounded antics that can be appreciated. Yes, there are accents of the gross-out gags, that is to be expected, and a fair few off-colour gags, but behind the film is a comparatively down-to-earth comedy about finding yourself right after college. Marking a dramatic change to the typical Happy Madison oeuvre. Father of the Year might not be worthy of that esteemed titular title, but it is worthy nonetheless.
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