WHY HIM? (2016) review
written by: John Hamburg and Ian Helfer
produced by: Stuart Cornfeld, Dan Levine, Shawn Levy & Ben Stiller
directed by: John Hamburg
rated: R (for strong language and sexual material throughout)
runtime: 111 min.
U.S. release date: December 23, 2016
I got to talking about movies with the guy cutting my hair the other day, as I am prone to do and he mentioned that he likes comedies. I told him that can be a problem because finding a really good one is rare, of course, I added, it all depends on what you think is funny. “That’s so true,” he agreed. I continued further, asking him to consider whether or not the characters in the comedies he likes are truly funny individuals or are they annoying, and are they regular people we can relate to who find themselves in unfortunate situations or misunderstood circumstances. All of that can be funny with the right screenplay and talent. But, it rarely is in most Hollywood movies marketed as comedies, which rely on base and lewd humor instead of any semblance of wit or originality. Such talk made me think of “Why Him?”, a movie I’ve tried to forget, which takes bathroom humor to a new level.
The first few seconds of this movie offers viewers an up-close peak at James Franco’s pubic hair. Clearly, there’s no easing into the unease from John Hamburg, “the writer of “Zoolander 2” and director of “I Love You, Man” as it painfully insists on offering one groan-inducing gag after another (both definitions of ‘gag’ apply here). Granted, “Why Him?” got a few chuckles out of me, but I’ve seen less dead-on-arrival jokes in recent episodes of Saturday Night Live.
Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) is a hard-working, fifty-something owner of a printing company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This year, Ned and his loving wife, Barb (Megan Mullally) and responsible teenage son, Scotty (Griffin Gluck), have all been invited to spend Christmas in Los Angeles with his college-aged daughter, Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), and her new (to them) boyfriend. Stephanie has secretly been dating dim-witted gaming billionaire, Laird (James Franco), for months and has decided the holidays would be the time to introduce her family, particularly her straight-laced father, to her wealthy and sweet (to her), profanity-addicted man. As expected, the protective Ned is put off by the often shirtless, tattooed Laird, who has no qualms about groping Stephanie in front of her family and offering outspoken praises toward Barb for her apparent MILF-level hotness. As Laird aggressively seeks to bond with Ned and get his blessing to marry Stephanie, the overwhelmed and horrified father is reaching supernova stress levels, while his mind is often on his struggling company back home.
The story, co-written by Hamburg and actor/writer Ian Helfer, from a story the two of them collaborated on with Jonah Hill, has a vert familiar premise. The tentative father getting to know the love interest of his beloved daughter is age-old and is combined here with the typical family drama that the holidays accentuate. However, when these writers think something is funny, they then feel that recycling it is the way to go, instead of finding new ground to cover to keep their comedy fresh. The pubes we see in the opening are revisited with another FaceTime session, this time between Ned and Stephanie, during his birthday party at a Midwest Applebees restaurant. It turns out to be an embarrassing moment capturing an undressing Laird in the background as he openly prepares for a sexual rendezvous with Stephanie, resulting in Ned slamming the laptop against a wall in a desperate attempt at disconnection. The rest of the movie repeating the same juvenile humor over and over again, making it a tiring viewing experience that will grate your patience.
Most of the gags come when the Fleming family visits Laird’s property, specifically revolving around a fancy Japanese toilet and a stuffed moose encased in its own urine he has in his home. It’s funny at first, especially seeing Cranston as Ned eating some questionable food items, like molecular gastronomy delicacies such as liquid meat and edible paper. We also see Ned and his family interact with a nosey in-home artificial intelligence (voiced by Kelley Cuoco), an unseen character who also outstays her welcome. Laird’s home is where we meet Gustav (Keegan Michael Key), the billionaire’s estate manager and something of a life coach, advising his boss when to dial it down with the Flemings and physically attacking him unannounced to help prepare Laird in self-defense in any situation. Key has great timing and is usually great, but a little of this character, with his indistinct European accent, goes a long way.
Try as they might, Cranston and Franco just can’t rise above or make anything worthwhile out of this material. These two are talented actors who deserve better material, but they’re also adults capable of making career decisions all on their own. I can only assume that taking a comedy set during Christmas and released during the holiday season is something they may have thought would be a lucrative choice. My guess is probably not. Cranston and Mullally are a good pair, but I we all know her perfect match is her real-life husband, Nick Offerman. It would’ve been a hoot to recast Lea Thompson as Stephanie’s mother, since she’s the real-life mother of Zoey Deutch (daughter of “Some Kind of Wonderful” director Howard Deutch), but it’s likely that Thompson isn’t an identifiable name for 20th Century Fox. Deutch is good here, but it is certainly a step down from her role in Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!”, from earlier this year.
“Why Him?” doesn’t care about delving into some of the themes touched on like people-pleasing and the schism that occurs between and father and daughter when a significant other factors in. It would rather wave its crude flag throughout the majority of its runtime. The movie needlessly relies on vulgarity to mine endless profanity, masturbation jokes and the aforementioned toilet humor. It’s really tiring – and I’m not even touching the scene involving removing giant moose testicles from someone’s face. There’s no way any sincerity or attempt at a genuine character arc can be taken seriously when it’s surrounded by all this nonsense. There’s more that’s unfunny in this movie, but I think I’ve said enough.
“Why Him?” is an overlong and predominately unfunny comedy, that is much like its Franco character in that it has no understanding of timing and space. It wants to be nonstop and in your face with the laughs, whereas, if such energy went into more care and understanding in characterization, there might have been a movie worth watching here. As it is, this will be a movie played on an endless loop on cable soon enough. It’s a movie that left me asking, “Why Me?”