“Why Him?” (2016)
Running Time: 111 minutes
Written & Directed by: John Hamburg
Featuring: James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Griffin Gluck and Keegan-Michael Key
Laird Mayhew: “Motherfucking *Fleming’s* are in the house! YES!”
Ned Fleming: “Oh my God.”
This new James Franco/Bryan Cranston comedy is a riff on the classic drama “Guess who’s coming to dinner” (1967), they star as the titular warring generationally challenged possible in-laws, which of course has been repeated as comedy ever since that first great (although much dated) film. On paper this seems like a great idea and a twist on a familiar story, with the app obsessed billionaire culture meeting an old world business that is suffering in this new age of technology. However, the fact that Cranston’s character owns a printing business seems so early 2000s and not late 2010s – really printing is still a thing? Come on seriously? So much of this film seems so early century it is not funny, smart houses? Game apps? Clueless billionaires – I have seen this somewhere before – Oh yes on HBO’s smarter, more relevant and cool “Silicon Valley” – where there are real issues amongst the hilarious comedy with way more likeable and unique characters.
“Why Him?” (2016), is set just prior to and after the Christmas holidays, loving but overprotective Ned (Bryan Cranston) travels to California to visit his daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) at Stanford University. While there, he meets his biggest nightmare: her well-meaning but socially awkward boyfriend Laird (James Franco). Even though Laird is a billionaire, Ned disapproves of his freewheeling attitude and unfiltered language. His panic level escalates even further when he learns that Laird plans to ask for Stephanie’s hand in marriage.
Peter Hamburg writes and directs here, his other big screen effort was the underwhelming “I Love You, Man” (2009), he does do a good job here, although this movie may have been more effective if there had been an editor involved at the script stage. Like many post-Apatow comedies this does seem to have a bloated running time, an over abundance of explanation as well as needless plot twists that seem superfluous, especially in comedies. That’s not to say that the gags, most of the time don’t work, they do, however they do seem borrowed from other films, much like the plot. Even Cranston makes a point that a running gag, that of Laird beng attacked randomly by his servant is straight from the “Pink Panther” films – themselves having being remade this century. I think this is supposed to be self-aware but comes off cheesy as well as clumsy. In this film they don’t need help pointing out their flaws, these are all over the screen.
The performances are all pretty good with the bulk of the laughs going to the always funny Megan Mullally as the generic buttoned down mother, Bryan Cranston as the set upon father with a lesson to learn. Zoey Deutch (daughter of director Howard Deutch & actress Lea Thompson) and James Franco are good as well but to a lessor extent, as Franco has been playing the same part for over a decade now in various other roles. Franco is so good you forget he has many other talents, but I assume he does these roles to either up his profile or to fund other projects – I have no beef with him at this point of his career. Deutch on the other hand is the relative newcomer but holds her own although as with many other like comedies she has very little to do. Keegan-Michael Key makes an appearance as Franco’s manservant and kills it as usual, once again proving the talent on show in his television show was not a fluke – he is truly a gifted comic.
This is not a bad film particularly measured against some of the horrible films that have made their way to cinemas this year alone, but it is deeply flawed. Why is it so many white comedies have to be about privilege, they all seemingly set in upper class, millionaire or as is the case here, billionaire households. It is such a lazy shortcut to dismiss any actual problems by making people rich and thereby making their problems emotionally based – what is this saying to people not only in the US but around the world. In this new cinematic comedy world all rich people are white – the only non-white person in this film is a butler/man-servant – isn’t that trope from the 1960s? The other thing is the fact that Cranston’s character doesn’t like the successful billionaire boyfriend is that he is a bit of free thinking hippie – really that’s why he doesn’t like him – yeah, right.
I would actually recommend this film on either a streaming service or rental if that still exists. The movie does not have any real re-watchable value as the story is pretty redundant it does not cross any lines to make it a classic comedy. It is a shame really as there was plenty here to make it relevant if the story had been updated more, with something that would make it unique among a marketplace with more relevant, funny and ground breaking comedies.
Released on DVD and Blu-ray 12th April 2017.