Imagine you’re Bryan Cranston – you’re riding on a wave of global success, and on the hunt for your next project. You’re a man of considerable dramatic and comedic talent, so where do you do? Apparently, the answer to that is a film where half the gags are his character being splashed in the face with toilet water. I make it sound worse than it is – Why Him? is occasionally a very funny film – but it’s a very familiar sort of movie and it doesn’t add much to what has come before.
During the Christmas holidays, loving but overprotective Ned Fleming (Cranston) heads out to California to visit his beloved daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) at Stanford University. When he arrives, however, he is greeted with his biggest nightmare – her well-meaning but incredibly socially awkward boyfriend Laird (James Franco). Even though Laird is a billionaire, Ned disapproves of his freewheeling attitude and foul language, and encourages to Stephanie to think again. His panic level only escalates when Laird reveals to him his intention to ask for Stephanie’s hand in marriage, something he refuses to even entertain. Ned’s plans to get rid of Laird are hampered by only one thing – Laird’s desire to get to know him and be part of a family.
Here’s one of the oldest premises in the book, and the movie does little that is new or exciting with it. It is essentially a rip-off of Meet The Parents (director John Hamburg also worked on the screenplay for that film), but doesn’t get half the laughs that film did. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of laughs here (there was an office desk sex scene that had me laughing until it hurt), but for every gag that sticks, there is at least one that doesn’t.
If we’re frank, the only reason you’re coming to this film is to see a showdown between Cranston and Franco, and the two channel their considerable comedic ability to make this a fun movie. Now that he’s known for his terrifying performance in Breaking Bad, it’s easy to forget that Cranston started out as a comedic actor, and this film proves he has lost none of his ability. He slips into the role of the uptight parent easily, and he is the best thing in the film.
My appreciation of the Franco character was somewhat less so, as it is essentially the same role he plays in every comedy – the difference here, though, is that he actually manages to infuse some heart into the performance too. He is a somewhat obnoxious presence (indeed, the only way the movie manages to suggest he might be a good guy is that he spends his money on other people), and the film never really comes up with a decent answer to its title question.
The movie is about these two guys, so the rest of the supporting cast don’t get too much of a look-in. Deutch is the other major player, but her role is essentially to tell Cranston and Franco why they’re wrong and that girlfriends/daughters are people too. Megan Mullally gets little to do as the mother, and I know there was a son, but I can’t remember anything about him. Keegan Michael-Key rounds out the main cast as an Austrian manservant, because doing a stupid voice is guaranteed laughs, but his funniest shtick is a but that the movie happily admits it stole from The Pink Panther.
Come to a film like this, and you know exactly what you are going to get. Fortunately, there are enough laughs in the picture to make it a pleasant watching experience, but it’s a bit of a half-hearted go and it could have been better than this. If you come along, come for Bryan Cranston, and then you won’t be disappointed.
Director: John Hamburg
Cast: Zoey Deutch (Stephanie Fleming), James Franco (Laird Mayhew), Cedric the Entertainer (Lou Dunne), Bryan Cranston (Ned Fleming), Megan Mullally (Barb Fleming), Griffin Gluck (Scotty Fleming)
Running Time: 111 Mins