December 23, 2016
With Jonah Hill writing (or at least coming up with the story idea) and Ben Stiller producing, one would tend to assume the result would be a type of Judd Apatow/Farrelly Brothers hybrid. “There’s Something About Mary Being Knocked Up” or “The 40-Year-Old Virgin Kingpin,” if you will. That’s exactly what you get with Why Him?.
At first James Franco and Bryan Cranston may seem like an odd pairing, especially since both are recently coming off of more dramatic fare. Following his impressive turn in the thrilling Stephen King/J.J. Abrams mini-series 11.22.63, Franco decides to return to his Freaks and Geeks comedy roots and, while it’s been a longer departure for Cranston, who progressed effortlessly from the small-screen intensity of Breaking Bad to the big-screen intensity of The Infiltrator, anyone who watched Malcolm in the Middle knows he’s got plenty of comedy skills in his arsenal too.
Franco, in the de facto Apatow-hero 35-year-old man-boy archetype, plays Laird, a Silicon Valley app and game designer who lives in an ultra-modern mansion and apparently collects tank tops. He is also the first serious boyfriend for Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), whose overprotective father is small-business owner Ned (Cranston). When Ned and his family go to spend a weekend with their daughter and meet Laird for the first time, hijinks naturally ensue.
There are plenty of Farrelly-esque gross-out gags involving things like moose balls or Megan Mullally twerking. Three scenes in particular had the audience roaring: the opening Skype between Stephanie and Ned that is interrupted when Laird arrives at Stephanie’s and proceeds to unclothe himself, a paperless toilet scene, and the fight scene when Ned finally reaches his boiling point. There are also lots of fairly humorous jokes hinging around the generation gap between Ned, who struggles to make a living in the potentially soon-to-be-extinct printing industry, and Laird, who lives in a “paperless home.”
Overall, Laird is annoyingly over-the-top, although that may have less to do with Franco’s performance than the script, which is surprising since John Hamburg (who also directed) is the screenwriter of some comedy gems like Along Came Polly, Meet the Parents, Zoolander, and I Love You, Man. Laird’s level of impropriety verges on preposterous, dropping countless F-bombs in front of Ned’s teenage son, discussing sex with Ned’s daughter at a family dinner, and just being a general douchebag, all while insincerely apologizing it away with the [obvious] confession that he “has no filter.” Uh, ya think? There has to be a reasonable amount of huffing from your girlfriend’s dad and eye-rolls from your girlfriend herself when a person should figure, “maybe I should stop talking” but no, Laird is oblivious.
Gene Simmons of Kiss and Cedric the Entertainer stop by for a couple of fun but somewhat mediocre appearances, but the most overwhelmingly winsome performance is that of Key & Peele’s Keegan-Michael Key. As Laird’s butler/personal trainer Gustav, Key adds at least a star’s worth of accented gusto to every scene he steals. Just when you’ve forgotten about him he bursts back for a hilarious sneak attack on Laird as part of his self-defense or evasive parkour training. His outstanding talents alone make the movie worth seeing.
A truly great comedy, however, not only evokes laughs and alleviates the stress of our daily lives, especially around the holidays, it also has heart; a poignancy that elevates it beyond the realm of the simply funny and into that of the sublime. Why Him? lacks this transcendent quality, instead feeling more like a really long, albeit really funny, sitcom.
One final word of advice: do NOT, under any circumstances, ever go see this movie with your parents on Christmas (or any other day) unless you enjoy being embarrassed and uncomfortable. You’ve been warned.
Star Rating: 2½ out of 5 stars