Daddy Day Care

Daddy Day Care. Columbia Pictures 2003

Before watching the movie:

Men caring for children and being overwhelmed! That’s funny, right? Because men can’t handle kids? Or because men aren’t prepared for childcare and face a steeper learning curve? Eddie Murphy and his friend who’s not a big enough name to be billed above the title or featured on the poster at all will find out, I guess.

I thought this movie had both Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin, but I’m pretty sure I’m just confused because Steve Martin appeared in Cheaper By The Dozen the same year, and they are both movies about Too Many Kids.

After watching the movie:

Charlie Hinton’s wife Kim is resuming her law career, and that means their son Ben needs day care. The only decent option in the area is Chapman Academy, a pretentious and outrageously priced preschool with a heavy emphasis on “structure”. Then Charlie’s health food division at his company is shut down and he and his friend Phil are laid off. After weeks of struggling to keep up with the bills and childcare tuition on only Kim’s income, a friend suggests to Charlie and Phil that anyone with decent childcare sense, like say, two full-time fathers, could open a daycare business for a lower price than Chapman and really clean up. Charlie and Phil open Daddy Day Care, and face the challenge not only of taking care of many, many more kids than they’ve ever looked after before, but also Miss Harridan of Chapman Academy’s attempts to sabotage her competition.

I think the dissonance between the joke and the message, “dads fail at childcare” vs. “dads struggle to learn new skills and succeed”, is amplified by the marketing of the movie. When advertising a fish out of water story, the trailers have to emphasize the jokes, and therefore show a lot of failure. But a complete story needs to have the protagonists overcome their adversity, and so by the end, the story has the opportunity to teach the opposite of the premise it was sold on. Perhaps a story that actually meant to say that fathers can’t be childcare professionals would show them eventually moving out of that role and into something that plays better to “men’s” skills but having learned how to be better fathers in their own families. That would probably not be as interesting of a story to tell, and certainly not as hopeful.

Charlie and Phil experience some friction at the start from parents who don’t believe that “just two guys” can take care of their children, or even find the very idea of grown men watching children perverse in a very obliquely defined way. This lasts for one scene, so that the story can address the cultural stigma before brushing it aside, as one mom who actually knows them stands up for them, causing the other parents to relent. Subsequently they prove themselves so well that their clientele grows quickly, so even though it’s tough on them, they’re clearly doing things right.

I completely didn’t expect Steve Zahn to enter the mix. He’s introduced as an awkward weirdo, but later when he gets drafted into being the third carer of Daddy Day Care, his weirdness turns out to be perfect for entertaining children, including multiple times when his extensive knowledge of Star Trek helps him engage with the kids better. He seemed like a throwaway joke at first, but once he joined the team, he immediately became my favorite character. I want to see more of his action figure retellings of Star Trek movies.

While this doesn’t have anything especially original or unexpected to say, it does have something to say, and that helps make it worth the time. The comedy is fine, the emotional core is fine. Altogether, it’s a good movie that won’t be anyone’s classic, but it’s good.

One thought on “Daddy Day Care

  1. Kellie Suttle December 13, 2019 / 6:29 pm

    Yeah, it’s been years since I’ve seen it, but I remember liking it better than I thought I would.

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