Why Him?, 2016.
Directed by John Hamburg
Starring James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Griffin Gluck, Keegan-Michael Key, Adam Devine, Cedric the Entertainer, Zack Pearlman, and Kaley Cuoco
A dad forms a bitter rivalry with his daughter’s young rich boyfriend.
During the majority of Why Him? there is a heavy sensation of déjà vu; this is just Meet the Parents under much raunchier direction. And by raunchier, all I really mean is an over-reliance on lowbrow sexual humor (a luxurious house has artistic paintings of different animals in various sexual positions) and James Franco dropping obscenities in just about every line of dialogue he delivers while playing an upbeat foul-mouthed yet well-meaning billionaire computer programmer. Then after a quick a bit of pre-review research, it came to my attention that this comedy was directed by John Hamburg, a writer on the trilogy of aforementioned Meet the Parents movies (including the god-awful Little Fockers). Unfortunately, this is no Meet the Parents, and closer to Meet the Fockers; not terrible but also not very good.
With that knowledge in mind, the disappointment that is Why Him? is all the more frustrating, as with talent like the hyperactive James Franco and a Bryan Cranston returning to his comedy roots (even playing a family father again nonetheless), including a number of notable supporting names (Adam DeVine, Cedric the Entertainer, Keegan-Michael Key, Zoey Deutch, and Megan Mullally), the amount of jokes that fall flat is puzzling. None of the performances are terrible by any stretch, and all of the actors are game to go to extremes in hopes of eliciting a laugh, but the writing and structure of each scene are routinely terrible.
For a second, let’s pretend that the opening 10 minutes or so of the movie don’t consist of scenes centered on attempted comedy coming from James Franco showing audiences his bare ass or almost whipping out his penis to his college-student girlfriend Stephanie (Zoey Deutch from the amazing Everybody Wants Some!! and the horrifically awful Dirty Grandpa) on a Facetime style video chat. Those tidbits are painfully lazy, but mercifully short. What’s truly baffling are the moments built on maintaining an awkward situation for as long as possible, somehow without anything humorous coming from the scenario.
For example, there is some literal toilet humor where Ned (Bryan Cranston) doesn’t know how to clean his behind because Laird (boyfriend of his daughter played by James Franco) chooses to have a paperless house, setting off an extended segment where Laird’s German business assistant (Keegan-Michael Key) walks him through numerous cleaning options from a nearby control panel. The shenanigans that ensue last maybe five minutes, and right before the punchline (which also isn’t really that funny), I had a self-realization of just how bored I was watching this movie, and began questioning who allowed unfunny scenes like this to run on seemingly forever.
It’s not all bad, as once the film allows Bryan Cranston to really let loose and go ballistic on every member of his family for taking a liking to Laird, Why Him? does get considerably funnier. Part of the reason is also because, until that point, it’s hard not to be on Ned’s side; Laird is obnoxious, and although Stephanie reminds Ned (and the audience) that she’s infatuated with him for his kindness and good-hearted nature, we aren’t actually given reasons to side with him until it’s too late. He’s crazy from every direction, and any father would rightfully flip out at their daughter for dating him. The guy is a literal man-child, not just a naïve soul or accident-prone doofus. Admittedly, Laird’s past is touched upon briefly to give some insight on what brought on his socially unacceptable behavior, but it’s also fairly generic and uninspired. Laird does mean well, but it’s essentially impossible believing him and Stephanie could be a couple or accepting that Stephanie would choose to date him, no matter what excuse the storytelling dictates. It’s like if Family Guy was a reality.
With that said, the final act is out of control in the best way, including some unexpected but welcome cameos. It made me come around to the movie and forgive some of the overly crude humor and numerous forced attempts at laughter just from curse words and sexual dialogue. Even the ending isn’t as predictable as one might expect. Furthermore, Bryan Cranston still has exceptional comedic presence and is perfect at delivering amusing facial expressions. Most of the things James Franco is saying might only make a 12-year-old laugh, but the reactions of disbelief and disgust from Bryan Cranston are golden.
There’s also a half-baked attempt at presenting a juxtaposition between the landscape of job markets (specifically looking at the modern era of technology and the printing days of yesteryear), but it’s all squandered under juvenile humor. Furthermore, Why Him? also seems confused as to whether it wants to be a Christmas film or not. The film is set in the Silicon Valley completely free from a holiday atmosphere, which makes it all the more jarring whenever a Christmas song plays. Outside of referencing Christmas and a scene where Ned and Laird look for a tree, it doesn’t actually feel like a Christmas movie.
Nevertheless, if you come for the comedic chemistry between James Franco and Bryan Cranston, you won’t leave too disappointed. Keegan-Michael Key also steals quite a few scenes as the aforementioned German business assistant who regularly performs MMA style sneak attacks on Laird to keep the billionaire prepared for a dangerous situation should one ever arise. Still, looking at the amount of tantalizing movies being released alongside Why Him? on December 23rd, why this movie? The only recommendation for it I can give in good conscience is if your family consists only of adults and everyone is dead set on seeing a comedy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★