Wednesday 21 December 2016

Film Review: Why Him?

Why Him? is an R-rated comedy starring James Franco, Bryan Cranston and Zoey Deutch that sees family friction once again threaten to ruin Christmas.

Cranston plays Ned Fleming, a career man who loves his family and is looking at hanging up his hat and enjoying retirement with his wife Barb (Megan Mullally). However, Ned's life is turned upside down when he learns that his eldest daughter Steph (Deutch) is dating Laird Mayhew (Franco), a millionaire manbaby from Silicon Valley.

Invited to spend Christmas with the young couple at Laird's LA lair, Ned is dreading an extended period of time with his daughter's disastrous choice of boyfriend. Naturally, friction soon turns to fierce rivalry and the two guys engage in an escalating series of mishaps in an attempt to establish themselves as the alpha male.

On the surface, Why Him? seems like a perfectly passable comedy that stays in its lane; the central concept of an uptight ageing father coming to terms with his offsprings choice of life partner isn't anything new and has been done umpteen times before. In fact, it's been done umpteen times before by this director, John Hamburg, who also wrote the entire Meet the Parents series.

And 50% of the time, Why Him? delivers on that promise. It's not going to blow the roof off the house in terms of laughs but the first third does enough to stir up substantial goodwill through witty dialogue and the warm familiarity with yuletide setting. Cranston is punching well below his weight but hey - at least he's having fun. Mullally is always game for a laugh (one scene involving a bidet and another involving weed are particularly great) and Deutch beams with charm. Cameos from Adam DeVine, Kaley Cuoco and Keegan-Michael Key also feed into the middle-of-the-road, Saturday matinee vibe that Why Him? is aiming for.

The only problem is - and it's a fairly big one at that - we don't buy into Laird and Steph relationship at all. Not an inch. He's just so utterly insufferable that it's the greatest stretch imaginable to actually imagine this couple ever hitting it off in the first place. If Steph had a single intelligent bone in her body, she'd have run in the opposite direction of Laird months ago.

It's not just his demeanour that grates (which is a credit to Franco's committed performance - Laird is very, very easy to hate) - it's every ounce of his being. The baggy sweatpants, the tattoos that look like scribbles from a third grader, the inability to stop talking for more than 10 seconds at a time - Laird's complete and utter inability to demonstrate intelligence and/or class makes it hard to believe he got anywhere in the business world to begin with (I'm sure there is a joke about Trump in there somewhere, can someone help me find it?). His whole house is decorated like what I imagine Saddam Hussein's presidential quarters looked like crossed with Google headquarters (We're back to talking about Laird, not Trump - but again, if the glove fits...)

Maybe that's a little harsh - after all, Franco's performance is genuinely amusing. He totally goes for it and his innate boyish charm does bubble to surface and make Laird bearable some of the time. But the internal logic still doesn't add up - why Steph would take a second look at a scruffy layabout like Laird makes almost no sense. This in turn makes it hard to invest in the narrative from the get-go; we almost want Ned to prevail in his game of one-upmanship against Laird so that Steph will ditch him and come to her senses. At least in Meet the Parents we want Gaylord Focker to get the girl AND impress her father. In Why Him? there isn't that same level of investment.

The Verdict: 5/10

Why Him? is just another pedestrian American comedy that is filled with crude humour, cardboard cutout characters and contrived drama. The technical elements are serviceable, the script is wildly inconsistent and the length just a touch too long. Still, it's pretty solid and Cranston and Franco share enough chemistry to make this worth your time at matinee price.

Why Him? is in cinemas across Australia from Boxing Day


  1. This looks cringey to me, but I'm glad to hear it's not completely horrible. Great review!

  2. I'm with Brittani. Not rushing out to see it, but maybe a Christmas. Good review!



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