Hollywood has always seemed to rely on the magic of youth, and its stars often spend much more effort trying to stay young and unchanging than they do on attempting to grow older gracefully and finding the right roles for each stage of their lives.
But with his recent movie “Delivery Man,” Vince Vaughn moves beyond his long-beloved status as the fastest-talking wisecracker in comedy and finds surprising new depths as a man who suddenly learns that he’s about to be a father to one child and has already unwittingly been the father to more than 500 others.
If that sounds impossible, then allow an explanation. Vaughn’s character, Dave Wozniak, is a delivery man for his family’s Brooklyn-based butcher shop. He’s a lovable slacker who racks up more parking tickets than timely deliveries, but he’s forced to grow up when his longtime girlfriend (played by Cobie Smulders of the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother”) tells him she’s pregnant at the same time he’s hit with a class-action lawsuit from more than 140 people claiming that he’s their biological father.
Turns out that Wozniak spent a bit of time 20 years before making donations at a sperm bank, and the doctors there liked his contributions so much that they made more than 500 kids from his efforts. Now, 142 of them are curious enough to want to meet him, and Dave has to decide whether to allow that to happen or not.
His solution is to pick a few of the kids and enter their lives as a friend without them knowing his real status, and then see if he can handle the responsibility of knowing them. He quickly finds himself drawn to being a real-life guardian angel to them, setting off a chain of events that should elicit both belly laughs and heartfelt tears from audiences.
“To me, one of the things that’s so loving and warm in the film is you have all these people looking for connection, who want to be part of something, and the movie takes them on that journey,” says Vaughn. “I’ve received some very nice notes from people already in the industry who have been adopted or had similar experiences and told me how the movie spoke to them.”
(The movie only discusses, and does not show, any of Dave’s sperm donation activity, and deals with the issue as briefly and tastefully as possible, while having many positive messages about the value of these lives, making it appropriate fare for teens and adults. Catholic News Service called it a “morally paradoxical comedy begins with an objectively sinful premise, but then follows a thoroughly ethical trajectory. And in a surprise statement amid its review, the show-business newspaper "Variety" said "It would be no stretch at all to interpret 'Delivery Man' as a pro-life movie.")
“The kids in the movie,” continues Vaughn, “are positive and loving and have light and joy in them. There’s something really wonderful in the connection they form. It’s nice to feel loved, and also it’s nice to have someone to love. That’s a great side of it as well.”
Vaughn’s speaking from experience, having made the transition from a freewheeling single life in which he was dubbed by some media as the leader of the “Frat Pack,” a group of actors including Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson with whom he co-starred in a seemingly endless stream of bawdy comedies in the middle of the last decade. He married Canadian real-estate agent Kyla Weber in 2010 and has since welcomed two children into his life.
Vaughn grew up in the tony Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, Illinois, where his father was a salesman and his mother was a real-estate agent and stockbroker. After scoring a part in a Chevy commercial, he thought the acting gods had smiled upon him and headed off to Hollywood, only to find that he struggled amid the sea of countless other actors vying for a big break.
That break finally came when he decided to create his own opportunity and teamed up with his actor friend Jon Favreau to make the indie comedy “Swingers” in 1996. That’s where his fast-talking abilities were finally given a chance to flourish, and he was immediately cast by Steven Spielberg for “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” in 1997.
Even though he was now noticed by Hollywood, Vaughn squandered the opportunity for a few years by shoehorning himself into dramas that hid his uniquely verbose charms. It wasn’t until “Old School” hit in 2003 that magic finally struck him for good, leading to a hot string of comedy hits that included “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” “Wedding Crashers,” “The Break-Up” “Four Christmases” and “Couples Retreat,” and set the stage for him to feel confident enough to settle down.
“You can’t help but change and for me it was just that I didn’t feel anything was missing in my life, and it wasn’t. It all came at the right time,” says Vaughn. “Now when I am absent from my son, I do feel something is missing. Before that, I was very fulfilled, having a lot of fun, sowing wild oats and doing the kinds of things that you should do when you don’t have kids, and now I’m doing less of that. But I earned it.
“Just spending quiet evenings with my wife and son or sitting in bed and watching him marvel over curtains in the morning is great,” adds Vaughn. “That feels good, and I’m impressed by his sense of wonder. The way I’ve changed is that I now have a whole new way to see the world and things are exciting for me again. Sounds, smells, tastes or how drawers open. Look at that, it’s really cool! You pull a knob and it slides and there’s things inside!”
That sense of wonder carries over to the big screen throughout “Delivery Man,” as Vince plays Wozniak in a broad array of situations that induce reactions from belly laughs to well-earned tears. At one point, he stumbles across one daughter near death in her bed from overdosing on heroin --- a moment that snaps the movie out of its early hilarity and appears to take things in a jarring dramatic direction. But the resulting moment where he has to decide whether to trust that she’s determined to quit the drug and plunge into a great new job the next day, or agree to have a doctor lock her in rehab, is a stirring one.
Add in a subtle yet powerful storyline in which he finds that one of his sons has severe disabilities that leave him wheelchair-bound and unable to communicate in any way, and you have a movie that remains funny in many other scenes but isn’t afraid to have some truly haunting moments.
With his wife and two kids waiting for him at home, the 6’5” Vaughn gets up and heads for the door. But he still has one more lesson to deliver.
“What I love about the film is that to me, a lot of it is about learning to accept who you are,” says Vaughn. “You have a lot of pressure to be different things and we don’t all have all skills at all sizes. But getting to be ok with yourself, to forgive yourself, love yourself and bring that to the table for relationships, whether romantic or family, or parents and kids, is key.
“There’s a lot of that in the movie. And I feel like, as a parent. it does deal with your hopes and fears for your kids.”
A young person, he says, can connect to the movie “because of what they are confronted with every day: I want to do this, but how do I get into this, or out of that? How do I change where I’m at? I think that’s something we all go through, but as we get older you get out of situations that aren’t your best and increase the things that you are enjoying.”
Carl Kozlowski is co-founder of www.radiotitans.com, and host of its shows "The Koz Effect" and "Kozversations."