Why Him? (2016)
Director: John Hamburg
Cast: Zoey Deutch, James Franco, Tangie Ambrose
Synopsis: A holiday gathering threatens to go off the rails
when Ned Fleming realizes that his daughter's Silicon Valley
billionaire boyfriend is about to pop the question.
MPAA Rating: R (Strong language and sexual material throughout)
Release Date: December 23, 2016
The angst of meeting the significant other of your child for the first time is a very legitimate life event that nearly every parent has to go through at some point in his or her life. It's pretty easy to see why it's worrisome--a child you've raised over the last two decades is being handed off to another human being--a stranger--someone who has to earn your blessing and convince you that your now young adult will be in good hands with them.
And as we all know, first impressions are important.
In comes the latest Christmas comedy vehicle, Why Him. The plot is straightforward: an overprotective father named Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) meets his daughter's boyfriend for the first time through a family gathering for the holidays. Through the first seven words shouted from the boyfriend, Laird (James Franco), Ned immediately sees that he's in for a wild, uncomfortable, and troublesome family visit.
Why Him plays off just as you'd expect. Many awkward moments between father and future son-in-law, as one is on the conservative and traditional side of family and business (Ned is the head of a printing business) while the other is an extremely modern, foul-mouthed tech-savvy billionaire (Laird is the owner of a giant video game company). Though this is initially amusing in some early spots in the film, the gags become further and further dragged out, with little characterization or motivation. It actually becomes tiring to watch, which is sad because there is considerable talent on screen.
The film continues through a bloated running time, offering in some twists that barely have any weight due to the characters' lack of reaction to them. In the end, you're left feeling nonchalant, neither caring one way or another for what happened to the characters. Part of it is in miscasting, as Cranston does not fit in a comedic role, and part of it is for a lack of engaging supporting characters--specifically Ned's wife and son. The last component is the most obvious--the lack of originality. The high concept of parents meeting their grown-up kid's significant other has been done before, and much more effectively, as with Meet the Parents (Jay Roach, 2000), which sported not only well-cast characters in Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller, but also entertaining and amusing supporting characters in Owen Wilson and James Rebhorn. The film, while certainly a comedy, also possessed warm moments of heart and charm--something Why Him severely lacks. Instead, Hamburg's film opts for near-constant profane language and kicking audiences in with seemingly endless gags that get less and less humorous as the film rolls by.
In all, Why Him is only sporadically funny, offering little more than a diversion around the holidays. It's filled with disposable characters and mostly tasteless gags, with the most laughs coming from James Franco's character. If you're searching for a Christmas comedy, look to others before checking this one out.