Politically incorrect, deliberately crass, with many scenes orchestrated to be painfully awkward, Why Him? is a kind of Meet the Parents crossed with Bad Santa.
Owner of a mid-sized printing business in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ned (Bryan Cranston) is genial, outgoing and adored by his employees, his friends and his close-knit family. The latter consists of wife Barb (Megan Mullally), daughter 22-year-old Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) and son Scotty (Griffin Gluck), 15. But life becomes a little more complicated for “The Big Cheese,” as Ned is known, during his 55th birthday party when Stephanie joins the event via Skype to send well wishes to her dad from her Stanford dorm room. The Flemings and their party guests are surprised by an unexpected (and naked) introduction to her new boyfriend … or at least a part of him. Distraught over the fact that Stephanie has uncharacteristically been hiding something from him, Ned begrudgingly agrees to travel with the family to spend the Christmas holidays in California. Thereby, he gets to meet his daughter’s first serious boyfriend.
Expecting an unassuming college student, Ned discovers that Laird Mayhew (James Franco) is actually a heavily tattooed, wildly inappropriate Silicon Valley tech magnate whose culture is completely foreign to him. Everything about Laird’s world – his wacky, unfiltered nature, his sprawling “smart home” and his disturbingly paperless existence – conflicts with Ned’s pragmatic, meat-and-potatoes perspective. Despite Laird’s repeated attempts to make the Flemings feel at ease during their stay at his Palo Alto estate, Ned only becomes increasingly concerned. He wants out and would like to ensure that his daughter rids herself of the relationship she has with this flaky guy from hell.
Why Him? puts a fresh spin on the anxiety-inducing tradition of introducing one’s significant other to the family. The co-writer and director is John Hamburg, the comic force behind the likes of I Love You, Man, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, Zoolander and Along Came Polly. Working with co-screenwriter Ian Helfer (The Oranges), Hamburg has crafted an at times hilarious, heart-felt script that captures the challenging transition parents face as they witness their kids creating lives and relationships of their own. “To me, there’s nothing funnier than the awkwardness of real life,” says Hamburg.
Also starring Cedric “the Entertainer” as Ned’s best friend and work colleague, Lou Dunne and Keegan-Michael Key as Laird’s manservant Gustav, the script has been designed to be over-the-top, so don’t say you haven’t been warned. Why Him? milks Inspector Clouseau being surprised by Cato in the Pink Panther series. In this case, it’s the mega millionaire games entrepreneur having to contend with Gustav.
Combine a sweet, well-natured daughter with a heavily tattooed man child who struggles to interact appropriately with a conservative, wholesome family man and you have the makings of comedy. Some will, no doubt, say you get the bleeding obvious and, at best, that’s manufactured laughs that are not all that funny, but my wife and I certainly were not embarrassed to laugh aloud, on occasions. Rude, crude and comedic seem to go hand in glove when attempting to tickle the funny bone in this era. I really do get why some are critical of that mix … because you can say filmmakers are taking the easiest road that has only lowest common denominator appeal. Largely, they would be correct, but clearly there is still an audience for such material. Let’s be honest, it is not surprising to see Jonah Hill’s name on the story credits.
But I actually happen to think that Cranston, Franco and Deutch combine well, making the most of what they have to work with. And Ned’s wife is certainly happy to play along. Megan Mullally makes quite an impression as Barb. I don’t for a moment suggest that their performances make this a high-grade comedy … far from it, but please folks lighten up before you are ready to denounce it. Rated MA, Why Him? scores a 6 out of 10.
Director: John Hamburg
Cast: James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Megan Mullally, Zoey Deutch
Release Date: 26 December 2016
Rating: MA 15+
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television