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‘Why Him?’ (review)

Produced by Stuart Cornfeld,
Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, Ben Stiller

Screenplay by John Hamburg, Ian Helfer
Story by Jonah Hill,
John Hamburg, Ian Helfer

Directed by John Hamburg
Starring James Franco, Bryan Cranston,
Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Griffin Gluck,
Keegan-Michael Key, Cedric The Entertainer,
Casey Wilson, Andrew Rannells, Adam DeVine

 

Somewhere, there is someone saying “You know what the Oscar season really needs? A hearty helping of toilet humor and cringe-worthy awkward attempts at comedy.”

I hope they make it to this movie. It will answer their prayers.

While it would have been a stretch to have high cinematic expectations for Why Him? it would not have been unreasonable to believe that the 2 hours would be used in a cohesive way instead of on a string of hastily tied together gags.

The plot centers around Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston), a mid-50s paper company owner who is struggling to keep his business afloat amid changing times. When his beloved daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) asks for the family to fly out to LA for Christmas to meet her boyfriend Laird (James Franco), Ned is thrown for a loop at the foul-mouthed, eccentric tech whiz kid that his smart and kind little girl has fallen for.

As Laird attempts to make inroads with his girlfriend’s dad, Ned’s Christmas holiday turns into a battle to defend his way of life (or so he thinks).

It is not as if Why Him? is devoid of a couple (albeit hard won) laughs throughout the movie. Bryan Cranston is a great actor, and he originally found comedy fame playing the dad on Malcolm in the Middle. His ability to still bring out a giggle in predictable setups like “father gets accidentally caught in room that daughter is having sex in” is a testament to his acting chops. If there is one thing that saves this movie it is its on-the-money casting.

James Franco turns in a performance that is as equally off-putting as it is endearing as Laird. Given the result, the prep for this role might have been as simple as Franco internalizing Kanye West’s manic Twitter persona while intensifying a few of his own well-documented “quirks”. For example, during a morning walk with Ned, Laird is seemingly attacked by house manager Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key with creepy facial hair and an unplaceable accent) but he quickly explains that due to the combination of wealth and a disdain for security, it seemed completely reasonable to have Gustav sporadically attack him to train his reflexes and fighting abilities.

And why not? It is just one of the many reminders that his money makes him free to live the most ridiculous life possible in juxtaposition to Ned’s Michigan-bred nuclear family. From the chickens, llamas, and buffalo roaming his sleek compound (playing into a dining concept he calls “lawn to table”) to the 2018 model Japanese toilet that has no instruction manuals in English yet, Laird is the one-note embodiment of the wealthy tech millennial that is putting Ned’s printing company out of business.

This tension is of course completely one-sided in the typical “dad versus potential upstart son-in-law” trope that so many comedic male actors over 50 find themselves playing eventually. Megan Mullally also finds her wittiness and charm relegated to the “wife that urges husband to loosen up”, though she does manage to pull out some laughs during a failed post-holiday party seduction scene.

Poor Zoey Deutch gets the shortest stick as far as opportunities to shine. She exists completely as a prop for either Laird or Ned. But the entire movie is really just props and gags; a sketch that goes on a little too long until you are beaten over the head with the message of “change is ok, and so is moving forward”. A plot like this should wrap up in 90 minutes, max.

At nearly 2 hours long this movie drags out what could have been a kind of fun throwaway comedy. It is unfortunate that it’s well-deserved R-Rating keeps Why Him? out of the hands of the 13-16 year old age group that would surely flock to see this movie.

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