DIR: John Hamburg • WRI: John Hamburg, Ian Helfer • PRO: Stuart Cornfeld, Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, Ben Stiller • DOP: Kris Kachikis • ED: William Kerr • DES: Matthew Holt • MUS: Theodore Shapiro • CAST: Zoey Deutch, James Franco, Bryan Cranston
Bryan Cranston may now be synonymous with Walter White but he’ll always be Hal to me. It’s easy to forget that part of his success in the leading role of Breaking Bad came from the viewer’s preconception of Cranston as a lovable oaf from the hit comedy, Malcolm in the Middle, and its jarring discrepancy with his amorality in the beloved crime thriller. So part of the curiosity that Why Him? has going for it comes from Cranston returning to comedy and the genre that first put his name in everyone’s mind. For one brief moment, that return is visible but all potential is obliterated almost instantly by James Franco at his most extremely unlikable as Cranston’s future foul-mouthed son-in-law. And when the comedic climax centres around the giant testicles of a taxidermied moose preserved in its own urine, there is no hope in Cranston carrying this cantankerous train-wreck.
Why Him? follows the story of Ned Flemming (Cranston), the owner of a failing card company, who is caught off guard when his daughter (Zoey Deutch) reveals that she has been in a serious relationship with a man for over a year. With his family alongside him, Ned travels to Las Angeles for Christmas to visit his daughter and also meet her boyfriend, Laird Mayhew (Franco), for the first time. Believing her to be a responsible and quiet woman, it becomes an even greater shock to Ned that Laird is a millionaire eccentric with a tendency to be tactless and unrestrained while swearing more often than actually conveying human thought. Believing Laird to be more than he can handle, Ned desperately wishes to leave but is pushed over the edge by Laird’s request to marry his daughter. What follows is a battle between a man looking for a father’s given permission to propose and a father who absolutely refuses to give it.
The story told is essentially an inversion of Meet the Parents but what makes this particularly infuriating comes from knowing that writer/director John Hamburg is responsible for having wrote the Stiller/DeNiro comedy. It feels in essence like a discarded screenplay that originally intended to see Greg Focker back again to meet his childrens’ partners but the silver lining Why Him? has to its credit is that we’re saved from that horrendous possibility. It’s still a terribly unfunny comedy however.
To open the film with an inconsequential FaceTime call between James Franco and Zoey Deutch about “Netflix and chill” before Franco lists off all the shows available on the website that they could “chill” to is insultingly lazy. Franco could be considered a divisive actor, who is either infuriating or enjoyed by the people who know of him, but his casting here as Laird seems intentionally made to exploit his invidiousness. Laird’s inability to restrain himself from his excessive use of profanity and sharing inappropriate details that might be considered ‘faux pas’ at best makes him extremely unlikable. Despite how desperately the second and third acts try to make Laird more sympathetic to the audience, excusing his ribald behaviour as a result of poor upbringing and abandonment, it never works. Franco’s performance is comparable to some of the worst Adam Sandler has ever done.
None of this matters however, because to be upset by how terrible Why Him? is does nothing than waste more energy than the film cares to give. The level of commitment shown to the overall quality should be evident in this being the sunniest Christmas movie ever made. If it hadn’t become obvious that the comedic formulae set out by Apatow, Rogen, and friends, over a decade ago has grown stagnant, Why Him? should be a clear reminder of that fact. Even the celebrity cameo, which shall not be spoiled, is frankly embarrassing to witness. But the biggest crime committed is having Bryan Cranston wasted in a straight-man role when he has so much more talent than the literal toilet humour he’s given to work with. Avoid at all costs.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Why Him? is released 26th December 2016