While there’s certainly nothing new about the concept of a middle-aged fuddy-duddy bristling at his beloved daughter’s brash new suitor, Why Him? adds the wrinkle that the new boyfriend isn’t some loser but is actually wildly successful. When Midwestern business owner Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) flies his family out to California for the holidays to visit his Stanford-attending daughter, Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), he’s surprised to find that they’ll be staying at the sprawling mansion of Stephanie’s boyfriend, Laird Mayhew (James Franco). Laird’s a coding wunderkind who developed a string of successful gorilla-themed gaming apps and enjoys a carefree, bohemian lifestyle as a result.

Ned and his wife, Barb (Megan Mullally), are immediately weirded-out by Laird, who greets them shirtless and cursing a blue streak, an enormous rendering of the Flemings’ Christmas card preposterously tattooed across his back. Their 15-year-old son, Scotty (Griffin Gluck), doesn’t take much winning over, and soon Barb is on board with her daughter’s new relationship, even as it’s revealed that Stephanie had been less than forthcoming to her parents about her involvement with Laird over the past year. For all his excess—he’s got exotic animals roaming his sprawling grounds, a celebrity chef on hand to serve bizarre molecular-gastronomy concoctions and an art installation of a dead moose suspended in a tank of its own urine—Laird earnestly wants to connect with Stephanie’s fam and get Ned’s blessing.

Laird’s overenthusiasm and incessant potty-mouth are half of the joke. The other half is Ned getting himself into awkward jams, whether it’s with the Japanese-language control panel of a computerized toilet or through his own conniving to dig up dirt to discredit Laird.

While the film’s zany antics do provide some laughs, especially whenever Laird’s heavily-accented estate manager and self-defense coach Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key) appears onscreen, Why Him? relies on episodic gags rather than on believably building up the tension between Ned and Laird. An all-out war between the two, or even the apoplexy of What About Bob?’s Dr. Leo Marvin, would be much more effective than simply having Laird perpetually trying to ingratiate himself to the mildly obstinate Ned. (If only Cranston could’ve tapped into some of the quirk of “Malcolm in the Middle”’s Hal.) The old school vs. cutting edge angle feels shoehorned in, with Laird’s house being entirely paperless (see the Ned-stranded-on-the-Japanese-toilet scene above) while Ned’s printing business is struggling to keep the lights on. Ned’s profession becoming obsolete works as a far too on-the-nose parallel to his feelings of the younger, more dynamic Laird passing him by in the pursuit of his daughter’s affection.

Why Him? follows Office Christmas Party as a holiday film in which corporate bottom lines meeting irreverent behavior play a central role. Neither film has anything incisive to say about capitalism or the increasingly materialist nature of the holidays, other than to act as though the worst aspects of both are simply a given. Despite being portrayed by skilled actors, the father-daughter dynamic between Cranston’s and Deutch’s characters feels forced, making Franco’s madcap performance (especially when interacting with Key) the film’s highlight, even as the ludicrousness of Laird’s lifestyle is a punchline with diminishing returns. A talented cast makes for some amusing moments, but they are otherwise largely wasted on this formulaic script. But if you find obscenities inherently funny or literal toilet humor hilarious, there are plenty of random gags to enjoy in Why Him?. Merry Motherfucking Christmas.

  • Zeroville

    Franco’s awkwardly incomprehensible film offers, at its best, little more than a dime-stor…
  • The Disaster Artist

    We see a middle-aged man’s creative dreams come true. What a story! …
  • The Institute

    One hopes that James Franco is merely in a phase where he is trying absolutely everything …
  • Come Play

    More dedicated to hastily papering over the cracks in its concept than to developing the g…
  • Oeuvre: David Cronenberg: Rabid

    Rabid feels like the director’s first work that is fully and unmistakably his. …
  • Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

    Sacha Baron Cohen has pulled off another unbelievable coup. …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Holy Hell! Shadow of the Vampire Turns 20

As a horror film, Shadow of the Vampire lacks bite. …