In Will Ferrell’s new movie The House, the comic actor plays the father of an incoming college freshman. Age-wise, this makes perfect sense; Ferrell is nearly 50, and having his daughter be a burgeoning adult probably more accurately reflects typical parent ages than, say, Adam Sandler, who is only a year older than Ferrell but has been stuck parenting mostly tweens on-screen for about a decade. Sandler is a major comparison point not just because of his age, but because of that tenure as a movie dad, which has by now amounted to around a dozen movies, many of which are explicitly about fatherhood (or Sandler’s sitcom-sentimental version of it, anyway).
This happens to most big comedy stars as they get older, especially guys – they need to pay tribute to their real-life families, reflect their real-life priorities, and nod to their aging fanbase by rejecting their youthful vigor/anger/anarchy in favor of gentler dad antics. Ben Stiller spent a whole comedy trilogy preparing himself for the rigors of family life; Sandler made a movie about dads screwing around and busting each other’s balls on vacation, and it’s his only live-action project so far to spawn a sequel; as early as 1997, just three years into his career as a superstar, Jim Carrey was playing a liar who needs to learn to be a better parent to his disappointed moppet.
Ferrell, though, has resisted this role, at least in movies. During his seven years on Saturday Night Live, he was a go-to father figure. His very first showcase sketch had him manning a barbecue, pausing every so often to scream, with increasing frustration and intensity, at unseen off-camera children to “GET OFF THE SHED.” Ferrell was a natural fit in these parts, with his height, soft belly, and slightly beady eyes – he could appear cuddly or menacing, sometimes within the same sketch. Later in his run on the show, he had a recurring bit where two parents made inane conversation over dinner, a symphony of plate-clinking silverware their backing track, until their teenage daughter would interrupt them and send Ferrell into an apoplectic but impotent rage.
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