By now, story formulas are transparent to most audiences. They understand what kind of story a movie is going to tell and how the movie is going to tell it. For a film like Delivery Man, audiences expect the main character to be placed in an outrageous situation, experience some awkwardness, but then slowly adapt and change to discover an inner truth. But while this film hits all of those points, it misses the opportunity to make a larger point that many audiences will intrinsically feel – and possibly project onto the movie – but will never outright receive from Delivery Man.
David (Vince Vaughn) is a below average Joe with a good heart. Unfortunately, he wasn’t blessed with a great mind, which sometimes gets him in positions where he owes dangerous men a lot of money. As such, David will do basically anything to make a little cash, including donating to a sperm bank over and over and over again. Many years later, David comes to find out that his sperm was mistakenly used over and over and over again, and that he has roughly 500 biological children – a plurality of which want to meet him, and are suing the sperm bank to release his information. Not wanting his identity revealed, David turns to his lawyer friend (Chris Pratt) to defend him in the lawsuit. In the meantime, however, curiosity gets the best of David, and he can’t help but involve himself in his children’s lives while keeping his identity to himself.
Delivery Man is a cute film that will really speak to parents of all ages in that the story is all about parenting and the singular joy of children, but accelerated. So when David attends a professional basketball game where one of his sons is playing, David, of course, beams with pride at his seeing his progeny excelling, which is a familiar experience for any parent who watches their child perform before an audience for the first time. It’s also fun to watch David do all the silly things he thinks are appropriate ways to take care of his children, like fill a shift as a barista or act as a personal hype man. The film is also very funny in parts, especially the scenes with Chris Pratt, whose character also has children, but who are at the age that no adult enjoys.
The problem with Delivery Man, however, is that David’s new circumstance is all too easy for him when it should be the opposite. There never seem to be any hurdles for him as a new parent, which will ring hollow for parents watching. At one point David has to make a crucial and possibly life-threatening decision for one of his children. He makes the easy, but arguably bad choice, siding with his child, even though, if she had been a complete stranger, he probably would have made a different decision. The point is moot since everything works out, but that’s exactly how Delivery Man misses the larger point: Parenting is difficult. Parenting means making the hard choices because they are in the best interest of the child. Parenting means making mistakes and learning from them. All of that is absent here.
The gaps in the story logic only make the situation worse. The only real challenge David has to face is whether or not he gets outed by losing the lawsuit over his privacy. Yet, even this challenge seems inconsequential since David is hanging out with all of his children and cares for them as his children anyway; they just don’t know him to be their biological father. It’s not until much later in the film when the opportunity to countersue arises does the privacy issue really become relevant. Furthermore, the film presents the children as if they are alone in the world, making their search for David as their father that much more imperative. But that simply can’t be a believable reality. It’s not like these children were given up for adoption, searching for answers as to why they were given up. Instead, they were birthed by mothers who wanted children, which is why they went to a sperm bank in the first place. These children have at least one parent in their lives. Where are they?
Still, it’s hard not to get swept up in the idea of David’s story. Delivery Man is a fine film. It’s got heart, originality and fun comedy that the family can enjoy. There are also some great moments that almost click together to become the film audiences hoped to see. For example, David is obviously a constant thorn in his father’s side, but his father is always there for him, especially later in the film when David needs help the most. Yet none of David’s children are a problem for him. This was just another missed opportunity for David to learn an important – if not the most important – lesson any parent will learn: Don’t give up on your children, even when they disappoint you.