Jake Richardson | 24/12/2016
Why him? Why not? John Hamburg’s Christmas-set two-hander is a surprisingly rewarding experience, carried by it’s two leads.
Why Him follows Bryan Cranston’s Ned Fleming - a father of two who runs a struggling printing company in the age of tech. His daughter, Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), studies away from home at Stanford College. When he, his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) and son Scotty (Griffin Gluck), find out that Stephanie has been dating someone at College without telling them for a year, they all trek out to stay with her for the Christmas holidays.
There, they find that they aren’t checked in to a hotel, but rather are staying with her tech millionaire boyfriend Laird Mayhew (James Franco), who wants to propose to Stephanie. Cue classic in-laws (to be) and boyfriend comedy and misunderstandings. Hamburg has form in this area. He wrote Meet The Parents, Meet The Fockers and Along Came Polly, and a lot of the same humor is present in Why Him, although with the added crassness of a 2016 comedy.
Nevertheless, Why Him is undeniably funny. For a movie with an awkward title, two lead actors known for more dramatic work, and trailers that don’t exactly break the internet, Why Him was something of a surprise. Cranston and Franco carry the movie through it’s occasionally awkward dialogue. Franco is absolutely convincing as no-filter Mayhew, and it is a joy to watch him on-screen. Cranston is also very solid as the slightly old-fashioned, out of time, Ned. Both of these actors can do this material and make it convincing in their sleep.
The rest of the cast performs almost uniformly
well. Particular mention must be given to Keegan-Michael Key as Gustav – Laird’s expert manservant cross martial arts instructor a la Ponton. The one person who doesn’t gel is Zoey Deutch as Stephanie, Ned’s college aged daughter. She is almost entirely unlikeable, and with the entirely good-natured Laird and the obviously well-meaning Ned both understandable in their drives and actions, her temper tantrums come across as childish and nonsensical.
Some of the cameos are also bothersome. They simply aren’t necessary. While the final musical cameo is admittedly great, the film is so strong in it’s core dynamic, and so funny anyway, that it doesn’t need the voice of Kaley Cuoco or the DJ-stylings of Steve Aoki.
At the end of the day, Why Him probably won’t make it in to any list of the greatest comedies ever made. But with strong, convincing performances from Franco and Cranston, and with some repurposed classic gags from Hamburg’s earlier screenwriting work, Why Him is a Christmas film that will have you laughing whether you want to or not.