In the spirit of comedies like Father of the Bride and Meet the Parents, the new film Why Him? brings together some great actors for a mass consumption comedy about new additions to the family and the parents who struggle with their little girl (or boy) growing up.
With these films in mind, there is an immediate aura of familiarity with Why Him?, and the script (co-written by Director John Hamburg and Ian Helfer on a story that Jonah Hill also had something to do with) doesn’t shy away from keeping the plotline to formula. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t bring the laughs, nor does it make it a bad or cringe-worthy film. In fact, the film seems to go to great lengths to avoid some of the pitfalls of the Meet The Parents series, where the often mean-spirited humour pervaded over the plot, and made the series progressively worse as it developed.
Bryan Cranston‘s patriarch in Why Him? could also not be further removed from De Niro’s Jack Byrnes, rather is closer to Steve Martin’s George Banks; and yes that’s a fine compliment. Though in the now classic Bride, it seemed the only person Martin was ever fighting against was himself. Here, Cranston (Ned Fleming) finds himself at odds with his daughter’s new boyfriend Laird Mayhew (James Franco), an eccentric Internet Millionaire who seems far from the ideal candidate for his daughters Stephanie’s affection (hence the film’s rather on-the-nose title). It all comes to a head when Ned and his family are thrown into a rather awkward and unexpected Christmas holiday at Mayhew’s house; a boyfriend he didn’t even know existed until days prior. Though there’s no confirmed wedding to come to terms with as in Bride, Cranston is still presented with quite a lot to digest, as the foul-mouthed Franco struggles to win Ned’s approval.
He has more luck with the hilarious Megan Mullally (Will & Grace), however, who plays Barb, Ned’s wife and Stephanie’s mother. Stephanie, meanwhile, is played by Zoey Deutch, who enjoyed a breakthrough role in one of the year’s best films, Everybody Wants Some (watch our interview HERE). Though an enjoyable character to watch (and notably her character is the same age as Annie in Bride), she is given the least amount of material to work with, serving primarily as a device to keep the story moving, while the comedic reigns are handed over primarily to Franco and his interactions with Cranston, Key & Peele‘s Keegan-Michael Key (who plays Gustav, Laird’s “estate manager”), and Mullally.
As the film progresses down a predictable path, there are some genuinely funny scenes – buoyed by enjoyable performances from the leads and a slew of great cameos that I won’t spoil here. Mullally’s memorable and hilarious bedroom scene is a particular highlight, as is a scene with Cranston involving Key, Mullally and a magical toilet. There’s some fun with Bukkake and some dialogue about a “Tattoo” that is among the finest comedy writing you’ll find – expertly delivered by Cranston. But really this film is about seeing Franco at his best, as you wonder – along with the rest of the cast – what he’s going to do next. It’s his unpredictability that keeps you along for the ride; the only problem there being the film’s trailer, having spoilt many of the better moments, something all too common for the American comedy.
To call Why Him? anything less than an enjoyable comedy, as some might, would feel as an affront to actually bad films; a lazy analysis for a film that delivers exactly what it sets out to do. It has some laughs, even some clever moments, and the characters, though fairly one dimensional, are well delivered by their competent and often hilarious cast. A cast led by the unshakable force that is Bryan Cranston, channeling his former Malcolm in the Middle role which somewhat feels nostalgic; and the unhinged, unbalanced, unpredictable but entirely likeable (not an easy feat) Franco. You’ll also be greeted with some great cameos and a Christmas film that feels miles ahead of some of the truly terrible Christmas movies out there. On a scale of Christmas with the Kranks to Christmas on 34th Street (1947), it’s sitting pretty comfortably in the middle.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Why Him? hits cinemas on Boxing Day, 26th December 2016.