Why Him? falls victim to its genre’s clichés, but Cranston and Franco make for an entertaining odd couple comedic pairing.
Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) is the CEO of a struggling Michigan-based printing company who is very close to his daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch). As Ned tries to land deals to generate much-needed revenue, Stephanie invites her family – Ned, her mother Barb (Megan Mullally) and younger brother Scott (Griffin Gluck) – for Christmas with her in California so they can spend the holidays together and meet her boyfriend, famous video game designer Laird Mayhew (James Franco). After some deliberation, Ned agrees to fly out in an effort to learn more about the love of Stephanie’s life before things get more serious.
Upon arriving to California, Ned is horrified to discover that Laird possesses a blunt and free-spirited personality that clashes with his idea of the “right” partner for Stephanie. Though Laird is a bit overwhelming for the clean-cut Fleming family, he claims to truly care for their daughter and wants to propose to her on Christmas Day. However, he will not do so without Ned’s blessing – so in the days before Christmas, the two men must engage in a battle of wills and wits as Laird tries to win Ned over.
Why Him? is the latest comedy from writer/director John Hamburg, who made a name for himself as the writer of Meet the Parents. This is his attempt to put a raunchy R-rated spin on that now-familiar concept, serving up some adult-orientated laughs for the holiday season. On that front, he is mostly successful. Why Him? falls victim to its genre’s clichés, but Cranston and Franco make for an entertaining odd couple comedic pairing.
The main appeal of the film is undoubtedly the mano a mano showdown between the two leads, and Cranston and Franco are both up for the challenge. The two channel their exceptional comedy chops to make Why Him? a fun yarn. The former slides into the role of the loving, yet overly-protective father nicely, while Franco shines as the free-flowing and honest (sometimes too honest) would-be fiancé desperately eager to please his prospective father-in-law. They really are what make the film work and do their best to elevate the material. Cranston relishes in the opportunity to let loose and return to his comedy roots, offering some humorous reactions to Laird’s various antics. Franco uses his skill set to make Laird more than just a stock character, injecting Mayhew with well-meaning earnestness to prove Laird has a heart despite his no-filter outlook on life.
In the supporting cast, Deutch does a very good job as Stephanie, operating as the straight woman trying to keep the men of her life in check. She doesn’t give Ned or Laird a free pass for their actions and stands strong as her own independent person, grounding the premise and working as a conduit for the audience sitting back and watching it all unfold. Stephanie is arguably the film’s most sympathetic figure and Deutch deserves much of the credit for that. Other standouts include Mullally’s Barb and Keegan Michael-Key as Gustav, Laird’s personal assistant and best friend. Both display great comedic timing and delivery throughout their scenes, getting some amusing moments in the spotlight (particularly during a Christmas party sequence). Gluck plays the younger Fleming Scotty as the stereotypical teenager who is more “street smart” than his parents would believe, but he too makes the most of his screen time, thriving alongside Franco especially.
If Why Him? has an Achilles heel, it’s the screenplay credited to Hamburg and Ian Helfer (Jonah Hill also receives a story credit). The story moves along a very predictable trajectory and relies heavily on the tried and true “controlling dad vs. new boyfriend” trope without bringing much new to the table. Ned’s immediate intense dislike for Laird stems mainly from their stark superficial differences, meaning there isn’t much to the overall conflict. The script actually tries to address this (and flesh Laird out with a troubled backstory), but some may find the clichéd aspects difficult to look past. Additionally, the film’s more lowbrow humor doesn’t always connect, and certain scenes go on longer than they should. At almost two hours, Why Him? may have benefitted from being trimmed a bit so it was more taut and efficient, but as presented it still moves along at a breezy pace and doesn’t leave viewers bored.
Surprisingly, Why Him? also has difficulties forming and developing Ned and Laird’s relationship. It lacks a sense of heart that’s vital for a story like this – and though Cranston and Franco remain committed throughout, their respective arcs come across as unearned, which ultimately hamstrings the final product. All the funny bits and interplay do not add up to a whole lot, and the movie ultimately goes through the motions. Hamburg, who was also behind the sincere and genuine ode to friendship I Love You, Man, cannot find a succinct emotional core this time around, relying more on formula to move the proceedings along, as opposed to something more substantial. Cranston and Franco don’t get many bonding moments, and the ones they do have are undercut to return to the clash of cultures.
In the end, Why Him? is another serviceable studio comedy that makes for a harmless time at the movies thanks to the efforts of a strong cast – yet a weak screenplay prevents the film from reaching its full potential. Those who enjoy the previous work of the actors involved will most likely find something to appreciate here, but casual audiences just looking for a vulgar laugh or two might be better off waiting for Why Him? on home media for next holiday season, rather than rushing out to the theater to catch it now.
Why Him? is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 111 minutes and is rated R for strong language and sexual content throughout.
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