‘Why Him?’ isn’t exactly the most creative comedy to come along in a while. In-laws feuding with young lovers is a comedy cliché that dates back to around the time someone first noticed slipping on a banana peel had laugh potential. However, as far as big lumbering studio comedies go, you could do far worse than this.
For one thing, the movie has actually laughs. Plenty of them. That’s pretty rare in the mainstream comedy game. Granted, there’s not much else to the movie, but that’s what you pay your ticket price for, right? If you’re laughing at a comedy, you can’t complain too much.
Bryan Cranston stars as Ned Fleming, a nice suburban success story. He has a loving wife (Megan Mullally) and a son (Griffin Gluck) cut from his own image. He also has a daughter (Zoey Deutch) whom he considers absolutely perfect, and a printing business that keeps the family happy. However, there’s trouble in Denmark. Paper printing ain’t the gold mine it once was and the business is struggling. Even worse, daddy’s little girl has a secret boyfriend that no one knew about. He’s a videogame guru named Laird, played by James Franco in an explosion of foul-mouthed enthusiasm and deeply uncomfortable over-sharing. Laird invites the fam’ out to his mansion for Christmas and everything gets super awkward super quickly. He even asks Ned permission to propose to Stephanie, the daughter. There’s no way that’ll happen, right? I mean, how could these two completely different personalities possibly find middle ground and teach each other life lessons? Not gonna happen. Let the war begin.
Storywise, ‘Why Him?’ unfolds exactly as to be expected without much in the way of surprises. This is comedy screenwriting 101, and whenever the improv sessions slow down long enough for the plot to advance, the whole thing grinds to a corny halt. Take out the gaming references, salty language and gently graphic sex scenes, and this exact comedy could have been made in the 1930s or maybe even earlier. Eye-rolls will pop up from the cynics. There aren’t exactly big twists worth getting excited about. However, the movie has its heart in the right place. The clichés at least serve up the brand of satisfying sap that everyone guzzles down a little bit over the holidays. More importantly, the laughs start early and don’t stop coming.
‘Why Him?’ is the latest comedy from writer/director John Hamburg, who previously gave us ‘I Love You, Man’, ‘Along Came Polly’ and the scripts for ‘Meet the Parents’ and ‘Zoolander’. He doesn’t break any molds; he plays into them. But he knows how to deliver laughs and how to cast his movies so well that he finds even more on the set.
Cranston is perfect as the bumbling dad, giving more credibility than the role deserves. Even better is Franco in another of a career-long series of well-meaning dummies and vague parodies of himself (in this case, his intense and genuine enthusiasm for all of his kooky ideas and passions). Franco is unhinged and having fun, which is where all of his best performances come from. Whenever he and Cranston play together, shit gets really funny really quickly.
Around the edges, Hamburg stacks the deck with performers like Mullally, Cedric the Entertainer and Keegan-Michael Key. They all steal scenes big and small. (Only Deutch is stuck playing it straight but she does so with charm.) It’s clear this movie was an improvisation festival for all involved. Everyone spits out goofy lines and gags with glee and giggles. If anything, there was too much improve. Scenes have a tendency to feel both choppy and drawn out as the editorial team struggled to include as much of the improvised material as possible.
‘Why Him?’ has a sloppy quality that throws a bunch of jokes at the screen and barely holds them together through a flimsy stock comedy premise. It ain’t art, but it works. Everyone involved with the production was clearly having unpretentious fun and there’s no shame in joining them for a couple hours, provided you aren’t expecting anything more than easy chuckles.