Why is Mel Gibson in the holiday family comedy Daddy’s Home 2? When Gibson’s relentlessly bloody, morally incoherent 2016 film Hacksaw Ridge inexplicably became a critical darling, I watched in horror at the love and attention lavished on the director. In what world were we living where, when Gibson’s name appeared in the public record, it didn’t automatically come with an asterisk? Nick Kroll and John Mulaney joked in their 2017 Spirit Awards monologue, “People wondered, ‘How long would it take Hollywood to forgive someone for anti-Semitic, racist hate speech?’ The answer? Eight years.”
Here’s who Daddy’s Home 2 invites families to laugh along with. In 2006, as you’ll recall, Gibson had been arrested for a DUI, where he verbally berated the officers, told them he owned Malibu and would “fuck” them, called the female cop “sugar tits” and espoused his belief that Jews have ruined the world. If this were an isolated incident, it’d be difficult enough to come back, but at least Gibson would be able to blame his outbursts on alcohol, as so many other toxic men have and continue to do.
In 2011, Peter Biskind found a large handful of industry people willing to go on the record to defend Gibson for his Vanity Fair article “The Rude Warrior.” Some sources speculated the incident in Malibu was prompted by Gibson’s wife leaving him, that it wasn’t actually hate speech but instead a way to provoke the police into shooting him and ending his life. Sure, OK. Maybe I can buy that.
But Biskind counters that theory by reporting other stories of Gibson’s warped and hateful views, such as Winona Ryder’s encounter, where Gibson called Ryder an “oven dodger,” a hideous reference to the Holocaust — the kind of remark we now expect from alt-right white supremacists. Gibson also confessed on a recording to punching a girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, knocking out her two front teeth while she was holding their child. He also said on that tape that for dressing provocatively she deserved to get raped by a “pack of n———s.”
There is anger, and there is alcoholism, both of which a person can work through with hard, ongoing effort. And then there is a complete and total lack of respect for other humans who aren’t your high-powered friends, which is much more difficult to overcome. So I return to my original question: Why is Mel Gibson in Daddy’s Home 2?
Based on the trailers, Gibson plays Mark Wahlberg’s character’s father, Kurt, a hard-nosed tough guy who’s got a story about dead hookers ready to go when he needs some attention from his grandchildren — “Hey, kids, I got a good one for ya. Two dead hookers wash up on the shore …” It’s symptomatic of Hollywood’s treatment of women that the filmmakers still find the death of sex workers funny. From what little we’re given of Kurt in the trailers, Gibson seems to be playing a caricature of his own darker side, a tiresomely inappropriate, unapologetic button-pusher.
Perhaps director Sean Anders and his producers find that funny somehow, in an ironical way, something like how convicted rapist Mike Tyson got laughs for parodying himself in The Hangover. But every time I walk past the benches and billboards for Daddy’s Home 2 in my neighborhood, I literally want to spit on Gibson’s face. Casting him in studio films, especially a cheery comedy, invites him to shrug off his past offenses, to charm audiences into accepting him, to show us with a few self-referential laugh lines and a big wink for the camera — “Don’t worry, it’s all a big joke — I’m not really an asshole!”
The Daddy’s Home movies pit the weak dad against the badass dad, so the two can learn from one another, but what ultra-masculine traits of Kurt’s will the filmmakers exemplify as desirable? Will he punch someone? Will he sexually harass a woman? And will the writers be compelled to craft for his character a happy, redemptive ending, one that invites us to forgive Gibson all his sins? Even if he stays the crude prick in the end, Gibson is in on the joke, which somehow seems as though it’s supposed to reassure us that he knows he’s a terrible person, and that self-awareness is a kind of redemption in itself.
It might be time for Gibson to politely leave the screen. That might seem a harsh fate for a talented man who’s spent his life working at his craft, but that’s exactly what numerous women and minorities have had to do throughout all of time, because of toxic men like Gibson. Why doesn’t Gibson have to leave? Because men like Anders would love to give him a job and write those dead-hookers lines for him, a life of shame turned into one giant apology tour. But hell, maybe Gibson is actually a great match for Daddy’s Home 2, where the women in the cast will get a couple of jokes here and there as long as they look hot. Who wants to take a bet that Kurt calls a woman “sugar tits”?