Why Him? | reviews, news & interviews
James Franco and Bryan Cranston face off in a surprisingly genial gross-out
One hardly expects a film like Why Him? to be high art, which is another way of saying that if you approach it in the right spirit (and with enough drink inside you) this well-timed holiday release should provide guiltily entertaining fun. Most easily described as a coarsened Meet the Parents redux, John Hamburg's generation-gap comedy pits the decent but fundamentally square Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) against the spectacularly badly behaved Silicon Valley squillionaire, Laird Mayhew (James Franco), who just might end up being Ned's son-in-law.
Can the two men co-exist? Things don't look good from the moment Ned and wife Barb (Megan Mullally) arrive at Laird's spare-no-expense California pile only to be met by an expletive-prone hipster whose culinary tastes tend towards soil and smoked bear. By way of contemporary art, there's a urine-encased moose on display that might give even Damien Hirst pause, while Laird's fondness for tattoos conjoined with his casual disrgard for clothes poses challenges for the couple's beloved daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), a Stanford University dropout who just wants everyone to get along.
Laird, it seems, is Stephanie's first real boyfriend and certainly embraces his Christmas-time visitors head on. Scarcely has Barb laid eyes on her daughter's buff piece of uber-wealthy rough before Laird gives his putative mother-in-law a smackeroo on the lips.
Stephanie's younger brother, Scotty (Griffin Gluck), gets an unexpected moniker as a "double dicker" - no, not a bus - while estate manager and apparent jack of all trades, Gustave (Keegan-Michael Key), looks on with po-faced, unshockable aplomb. Key's sausage-thick German accent provides a good running joke.
Ian Helfer's script - from a story by himself, Hamburg, and a not-unexpected third party in Jonah Hill - starts the mudslinging almost at once. Ned labels Laird an "abject lunatic" and worse, the father saving the odd snarl for his own over-enthusiastic son: "Stop talking," he snaps at Scotty, "and eat your paper!" In lesser or at least different hands - one wonders what might have resulted with someone like Russell Brand cast as Laird - the audience might simply tune out of the gathering provocations posed to family decorum.
For my part, I confess to letting the various indulgences escape censure and warming instead to the undeniable sweetness that Franco communicates throughout - a social reprobate who means well whether offering up a kiss or, indeed, the rock band KISS. Providing something to delight all generations (and genders), the film grants Mullally an extended scene in which Barb gets "superbaked" and a crotch-biting face-off, so to speak, between Ned and Laird that both actors commit to with real abandon. Not every December release is Oscar bait, one can practically hear all concerned with this venture thinking to themselves. In which case, what the hell? Or, indeed, why not Why Him?
Overleaf: watch the trailer for Why Him?
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?