D: John Hamburg / 111m
Cast: Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Megan Mullally, Zoey Deutch, Griffin Gluck, Keegan-Michael Key, Cedric the Entertainer, Zack Pearlman, Adam Devine, Kaley Cuoco
It’s any father’s nightmare: that the daughter he adores meets a man that she adores but whom the father hates. Such is the case in Why Him?, where Bryan Cranston’s struggling businessman dad, Ned Fleming (he owns a printing company), and his wife, Barb (Mullally) are invited to meet their daughter’s new boyfriend. Their daughter, Stephanie (Deutch), has kept quiet about her new boyfriend, Laird Mayhew (Franco), but as it’s Xmas, she thinks it’s a good idea for everyone to start getting to know each other. But Laird, who owns a video game company and is very, very successful, is also a bit of a loose cannon. He swears a lot, behaves inappropriately, appears to have few or no filters at all, and spends his money seemingly at random and on random things.
Despite his efforts to impress Ned, Laird doesn’t make it easy for himself, and soon learns that Ned doesn’t trust him. Furthermore, when Laird asks for Ned’s blessing so he can propose to Stephanie, the answer is an emphatic No. Laird is persistent, though, and tells Ned that by the time it’s Xmas Day (three days later), he will have won over Ned, and he’ll have his blessing. Ned thinks that is highly unlikely. A wager is made, and Laird does his best to get Ned to like him, but it’s not so easy, and the road to mutual respect is littered with the best of intentions, a few misunderstandings, and the appearance of two real-life rock stars.
However you look at it, Why Him? is a reasonably funny, yet also stupidly awful comedy that relies on its very talented cast to get itself out of quite a few holes (plot- and otherwise). It’s also an awkward mix of culture and generational clashes that rely heavily on clichés and predictable responses from both Ned and Laird as it chugs steadily along the path of least dramatic resistance in its need to be as heartfelt as it is puerile. This is the movie’s biggest flaw: it wants to be humorously crude and shocking in the same fashion as, say, some of Franco’s other recent work (that is, as bluntly as possible), and yet it also wants to be warm-hearted and decent. In the end, decent wins out, but there’s always the feeling that writer/director Hamburg and his screenwriting cohort Ian Helfer didn’t actually know at first which way things were going to work out.
But the movie has a trump card in the form of its casting, with Cranston playing the uptight dad to perfection, and providing the equally perfect foil to Franco’s crass, whacko video game designer. Mullally, who some may remember as the self-serving über-bitch Karen from TV’s Will & Grace, is kept largely in the background but then excels in an hilarious scene where she attempts to seduce Cranston while completely drunk. Deutch does well as the movie’s nominal “straight man”, and Gluck combines the best attributes of both Cranston and Franco’s characters as Stephanie’s younger brother, Scotty. But as is so often the case, it’s one of the supporting characters who proves the most effective. Step forward Keegan-Michael Key as Gustav, Laird’s estate manager who also doubles as this movie’s version of Cato from the Pink Panther series. The movie steps up a notch every time he appears, and if there has to be a spin-off, then Why Gustav? might not be such a bad idea.
Rating: 6/10 – not as obvious or objectionable as it appears to be, Why Him? struggles to maintain a consistent tone throughout, but has a good success rate when it comes to providing big laughs; good performances help paper over some very rough cracks indeed, but overall it’s an enjoyable movie that often tries too hard in its efforts to be edgy, and which doesn’t always seem able to rein itself in for the better.