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'Why Him?' Is Neither As Bad Nor As Good As You Think It Is

By Rebecca Pahle | Film | December 22, 2016 |

By Rebecca Pahle | Film | December 22, 2016 |

This Christmas, after the presents are unwrapped and breakfast is eaten, show your family how much you love them by taking them to a solid C+ movie. I mean, it’s fine. Your grandmother probably won’t like the scene where a teenage boy is teabagged by a dead moose while lying in a pool of urine, but whatever. She might. I don’t know your grandmother.

From its trailers, Why Him? looks…. uh…. questionable at best. Basically, you have Bryan Cranston and James Franco fighting over a woman, Transformers: Age of Extinction-style. (Remember the Romeo & Juliet Law scene?) Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), the daddy’s girl daughter of midwestern suburbanite Ned (Cranston), takes up with tech gazillionaire Laird (Franco), a tattooed doofus who curses every second word and whose California estate is filled with obscene artwork and high-tech gadgetry. Stephanie invites Ned, mom Barb (Megan Mullally), and little brother Scotty (Griffin Gluck) to Laird’s for Christmas, hoping that her family will get to know and eventually accept her boyfriend. But, though Laird means well, his personality and way of life are so out there that it’s tough for Ned to understand what his daughter sees in him—especially after Laird makes clear his intentions to propose to Stephanie, pending Ned’s blessing.

What follows is two hours of boyfriend vs father, young vs old, high-tech vs new school (Ned runs a paper company; Laird’s house is “paperless”), yada yada. Character-wise, it’s pretty by the books and lazy: Ned is the square, Barb quietly laments that the passion has gone out of their relationship, Stephanie is… there to be cute and sweet and not do a ton else. (The movie does, in the third act, have Stephanie blow up at Ned and Laird about how they need to stop fighting over her, because she’s a grown-ass woman who can make her own decisions and shouldn’t be “pass[ed]… back and forth like property.” So, uh, points for self-awareness there, even if the entire movie is still “woman is fought over by her boyfriend and father.”)

Why Him? is basically a series of funny moments strung together by extended segments of blah. But there is some funny, at least! (Looking at you, Keeping Up with the Joneses. Yes, I reviewed that. Yes, my bar for comedies has subsequently been pretty low.) Keegan-Michael Key is hilarious as Laird’s estate manager/hired best friend Gustav, who speaks with a thick German accent and says “oy ve” a lot and occasionally rushes out of the forest to drop-kick James Franco out of nowhere. (It’s to help him fend off kidnappers, you see.) And, though Barb is through most of the movie confined to the “boring buzzkill wife” role, there is one scene where writer/director John Hamburg and writer Ian Helfer realized, “Wait, we have Megan Mullally in this movie and she’s really fucking funny!” You can see it briefly in the trailer: Megan Mullaly, stoned and horny, trying to get it on with Bryan Cranston. It’s a god-damned gem of a scene.

And then there’s Franco himself, who’s basically rehashing the “idiot manchild” routine that we’ve seen in movies like The Interview. And hey, he’s good at it. He’s funny. But, IDK, maybe the idiot manchild thing has gotten a little tired at this point? I feel like we can move on to something that doesn’t have Stephanie coming up behind Laird and literally putting a shirt on him because he doesn’t get that “being fully dressed” is a normal part of meeting the ‘rents.

There are some seedlings of a good movie in Why Him?. It would have been a better film—more enjoyable, less forgettable—if Hamburger had doubled down on the weird and/or gross stuff (see: moose testicles, Ned not knowing what “bukkake” means, Keegan-Michael Key’s everythying) and left all the generic, sentimental family schlock about Ned’s unwillingness to let his daughter fly the nest and Laird’s desire for a father figure behind. You’re R-rated. Be R-rated. The way things are now, the boring parts of the movie water the good parts down, leaving a whole that’s a solid have-it-on-in-the-background-on-Netflix option, but not something to spend $10 on in a theatre.

You want a recent comedy? Watch Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. It’s on iTunes.