DADDY DAY CARE
When advertising executive Charlie (Eddie Murphy) and his colleague Phil (Jeff Garlin) are fired from their jobs, they learn first hand the problems of finding good child care. After a couple of unemployed weeks, Charlie and Phil open a day-care centre at home, and learn the hard way that looking after four years olds is a pretty tough job. But obstacles head their way, when Mrs Harridan (Anjelica Huston) who runs the expensive and snobbish Chapman Academy, realises that if Daddy Day Care succeeds, it is at the risk of her own establishment.
Review by Jake Wilson:
Anyone old enough to read this review is likely to dismiss Daddy Day Care as ‘family comedy’ schmaltz, and even apart from its off-putting premise the film has numerous surface flaws: choppy editing, glaring plot holes, stridently corny music, and an overall reliance on uninspired slapstick and toilet humour. There’s also a more fundamental problem: even in the lightest, most cartoonish context, nowadays it just isn’t funny to show children being mistreated. Tiptoeing through this danger zone, the film is forced to restrict itself to the very mildest comic scenarios – Charlie and his pals may start off as bunglers, but after a couple of initial disasters they’re forced to clean up their act pretty quickly. Yet this very mildness and lack of fantasy generates an unexpected semi-realist sweetness. Murphy’s characteristic brashness helps steer the film away from sentimentality, and the challenge of working with young, amateur actors lets him draw on his talent for improvisation; as a lonely Star Trek nerd who finds fulfilment working at the centre, Steve Zahn has never been funnier or more touching. Through long scenes that blend farce with everyday domestic detail, the film believably conveys the pleasure these guys get out of interacting with children: dressing up, horsing around, shedding the burden of the alpha male role. The implication is that working with kids helps them to become better adults: a serious view of childcare – as both a joy and a responsibility – that’s far removed from the infantile mugging of an Adam Sandler. It’s unfortunate that in order to celebrate its heroes the film has to demonise their female rival (though there’s something piquant about the butch-femme relationship between Mrs Harridan and her game young assistant). But considering that Charlie’s wife is sympathetically portrayed as both a successful lawyer and a loving family member, I’m inclined to take the film’s ‘post-feminist’ attitudes at face value – and given the queasy anxieties that now accompany any contact whatsoever between children and male adults, the depiction of ‘positive role models’ in this area is politically admirable as well as delightful.
Review by Louise Keller:
The first thing to note about this unashamedly commercial Hollywood fantasy about role reversal, is that Eddie Murphy is not the star. Unlike Doctor Dolittle, in which Murphy maintained centre stage despite being upstaged by the bevy of cute animals. As far as I’m concerned, Steve Zahn is the saving grace of Daddy Day Care, bringing with him a real child-like honesty that is both funny and touching. He manages to keep our attention, even when surrounded by a gaggle of scene-stealing cute-as-a-button kids, who naturally cut through the schmaltz. Zahn is the only adult who plays a ‘real’ character, and his Marvin is a sweet, but slow big kid who finds his milieu for the first time - amongst the kids. Eddie Murphy has already shown us that he can talk convincingly to the animals, and yes of course, he is great with kids. The very best scenes are those involving one-to-one interaction with the children, and Khamani Griffin, who plays Charlie’s four year-old son (and has the face of an angel), has no difficulty in making our hearts melt absolutely. But the story concept is funnier than the execution: after all, trying to maintain what is essentially a one-joke idea is quite a challenge. Needless to say, life is portrayed rather simplistically, with the men playing the roles of idiots who are totally inept at the simplest of tasks such as changing diapers and even relating to their child. While the moral of the story may be hammered home with a sledge-hammer, it does make a good point in its exploration of the bond between a child and his father. Angelica Huston makes a perfect Miss Harridan (the Daddy Day Care version of Annie’s Miss Hannigan), although the script never really offers her enough to sink her teeth into. But there are some delightful ideas and I like the idea of giving mission statements to four year olds: in case you are wondering, they eat ‘em, rip ‘em and throw the papers around the room with great enthusiasm. And in an accelerated learning curve, Charlie and Phil learn that although introducing a sugar-filled hyperactive heaven may be tempting, the after-math is a scene of mass destruction – namely prompting an upsurge of uncontrollable activity climbing up drapes, swallowing bubble-blowing liquids and creating sheer chaos on a major scale. Daddy Day Care is lightweight and frivolous entertainment that offers a few bonuses – namely an ensemble of the very cutest of cute four year olds plus Steve Zahn, who delivers the heart of the film.
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Mixed: 2 (Louise, Jake)
ON THE SET
DADDY DAY CARE (G)
CAST: Eddie Murphy, Jeff Garlion, Steve Zahn, Regina King, Anjelica Huston, Susan Santiago, Leila Arcieri, Lacey Chabert
PRODUCER: John Davis, Wyck Godfrey
DIRECTOR: Steve Carr
SCRIPT: Geoff Rodkey
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Steven B. Poster
EDITOR: Christopher Greenbury
MUSIC: David Newman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Garreth Stover
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 26, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: December 3, 2003