Why Him? full movie review - "Why Him?"- Charming but lacking in the laugh department, the film is saved thanks to the likability of Bryan Cranston and James Franco's fearlessly outrageous performance.
It really wasn't much of a surprise to learn that the director and co- writer of the new comedy "Why Him?" is John Hamburg. Why?
Well, because this film is essentially a sort-of strange and slightly modernized subversion of the incredibly popular "Meet the Parents" comedy trilogy, on which Hamburg served as a lead screenwriter. It's got the exact same sort-of high concept set-up as the trilogy, but inverts the storyline, as instead of a charming but troubled young man meeting his strange and secretive potential in-laws, here we see the story told from the perspective of a father meeting his daughter's wildly unconventional boyfriend. I have to imagine at some point in production, this film was going to be "Meet the Parents 4." Because right down to specific scenes, the film seems like it was tailor-made to be a fourth installment in that franchise.
"Why Him?" is a strange beast, and in a lot of ways, it also reminded me of another 2016 comedy that was met with generally sub- par reception- "Keeping Up with the Joneses." Both are broad comedies with simple but reliable premises, and as far as I'm concerned, both lacked in serious laughs but were salvaged by their likable and charming casts. Much as Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher saved "Joneses" from complete oblivion, here the likable charm of Bryan Cranston and the bizarrely over-the-top and fearlessly outrageous performance of James Franco salvage the day and largely make up for the lack of consistent gags. Is it a particularly strong film that deserves your hard- earned money? No, not really. But is it at least mildly entertaining and good for a chuckle or two should you catch it on cable or Netflix? Absolutely.
Ned Flemming (Cranston), the owner of a print-ad business that's starting to fail in the age of digital advertising, joins his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) and teenage son Scott (Griffin Gluck) on a trip to visit his daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) for the holidays. But things take an interesting turn when they end up staying with her unconventional internet-billionaire boyfriend Laird (Franco)- a kind-hearted but dimwitted and very vulgar weirdo with a complete lack of an internal filter. Despite being off-putting and difficult to swallow at first, Laird's good intentions eventually win over the family- save for Ned, who worries about his bizarre personality and fears for his daughter's future... especially when Laird confides in him that he wishes to propose to Stephanie. Now, Ned must decide whether or not to embrace this odd young man as part of his family, or try to push him away.
To get it out of the way, the film is quite conventional, and there's few surprises to be had. While I won't spoil much, I will say that anyone with even a basic understand of story structure will know exactly where the film is heading and when to expect story- beats and comedic set-pieces. Hamburg's direction is very adequate, however, and the production design is very nice. And even if they are predictable, the few huge gross-out type jokes are reasonably funny. But still, they can't quite overcome the sheer predictability of the script, which comes across as way too stale. And it's frustrating with the talent on-screen.
Thankfully, that talent is able to step up to the plate and redeem the film's shaky and predictable structure. Bryan Cranston may be beloved now for his stunning and troubling performance as hero- turned- villain Walter White on the incredible series "Breaking Bad", but the truth is he's a wonderful comedic talent, and it's nice having him back in a lighter role like this after so many years performing in more serious productions. He's got a great sense of timing and a sort-of fun curmudgeonly presence as an overwhelmed father that allows him to be gruff yet still likable. Great role for Cranston. And James Franco is just bizarre but endlessly entertaining as the foul-mouth Laird. I've always admired that about Franco- when a role is comedic, he'll commit 110% and go as far as he can to try and get a laugh. And while his over-the-top performance might turn some audiences off, I thought it was fun and at very least entertaining. Deutch, Mullally and Gluck round out the rest of the family in admirable performances, with each getting their moment to shine. And special props go out to the hilarious Keegan-Michael Key as Laird's personal assistant Gustav, a silly and entertaining foil that takes the best elements of the comedic sidekick and combines into one package. Particularly amusing was a fun running-gag involving him randomly attacking Laird in a riff of the classic "Cato" character from "Pink Panther", even if Gustav refuses to admit that's where he got the inspiration.
At the end of the day, "Why Him?" definitely suffers from a somewhat cliché and contrived storyline that feels like far too many films that have come before. It lacks originality and comes across as a bit too quaint for its own good. However, this is a film that is so predicated on the endearing interactions between characters, that I do think the likable and charming performances save it from complete obscurity. It's not the sort-of film you need to rush out and see on the big- screen, but if you're interested at all, it'd most certainly make for a fine "rainy-day" movie if you happen to catch it on cable.
I give it an about-average 6 out of 10.