Studio: 20th Century Fox
Directed by John Hamburg
Dec 23, 2016
Bryan Cranston slips back into a Malcolm in the Middle-esque suburban dad mode as Ned, the patriarch of the Fleming family and the owner of a floundering, Michigan-based printing company. James Franco plays Laird Mayhew, very much a James Franco-type, a millionaire Silicon Valley wunderkind who’s inexplicably captured the heart of Ned’s daughter, Steph (Zoey Deutch). When she invites pops to meet her hitherto-unmentioned boyfriend over the holidays, the Fleming family – Ned, mom Barb (Megan Mullally), and 15-year-old Scotty (Griffin Gluck) – pack up their bags for a Christmas in California that’s about to go horribly wrong in so many ways.
Why Him? trades largely in two modes of comedy. Succeeding far more often of the two are the frequent instances of cringe comedy driven by the two polar-opposing characters played Franco and Cranston. The former is a foul-mouthed, mega-rich manbaby with zero social decorum and who needs both a personal handler (a scene-stealing Keegan-Michael Key) and a Siri-like artificial intelligence assistant (Kaley Cuoco) just to function in his day-to-day tasks. Cranston is the film’s slow-boiling straight man, a down-to-earth father who wants the best for his daughter and is horrified by the prospect of her throwing her life away with this filterless maniac. Laird discloses to Ned his plan to ask for his daughter’s hand almost immediately after their arrival, setting him on an urgent, fatherly mission to ensure that the union never happens. Complicating matters is the way in which every other Fleming aside from Ned becomes instantly enamored with their prospective new family member.
Why Him? works best when it rides on the interplay between Cranston and Franco, where the film effectively acts as a marathon in paternal terror. Where it stumbles, though, is the points where it leans too heavily on a scatological factor that feels out of place in what’s otherwise a risqué but good-hearted holiday comedy. The movie didn’t need to have Bryan Cranston fumbling with the controls of a high-tech Japanese toilet; nor did it need close-ups of James Franco’s pubic hair and a moose’s scrotum. These sort of gags seem like an unnecessary attempt to add edgy oomph to a comedy that could have just let its gifted cast carry all of the humor. Still, Why Him? is a frequently hilarious comedy – one that could have become a classic had it not worked quite so hard to earn its R-rating.
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 2/10
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