The James Franco-Bryan Cranston-Zoey Deutch comedy, “Why Him?” is not entirely devoid of laughs. That isn’t particularly high praise, but the movie isn’t particularly funny and it never feels like it’s trying terribly hard.
I know I regularly bring up the fact that many movies have generic plots, but if I’m going to talk about “Why Him?” it’s impossible not to do so again. Bear with me.
Directed by John Hamburg, the story finds Ned Fleming (Cranston) learning that his only daughter/eldest child, Stephanie (Deutch), has been lying to him about her relationship status (apparently she didn’t post it on Facebook). Yes, rather than not being terribly serious with anyone, she has been dating tech millionaire Laird (Franco) for months on end. What is there then for Ned and company to do but fly from Michigan to California for the holidays and for the Fleming family—which also includes Ned’s wife, Barb (Megan Mullally), and their son, Scotty (Griffin Gluck)—to meet this boyfriend.
As the trailers make obvious (particularly the red band ones), Laird is something of a spacey guy who uses four letter words as punctuation. The Flemings don’t particularly enjoy that sort of thing, nor the rowdy parties he throws, nor the ‘suped-up version of Siri Laird has in the house (voiced by Kaley Cuoco, because Laird has enough money to hire Cuoco to record her voice), nor just about anything else about the guy. It doesn’t get better when Laird tells Ned that he wants Ned’s permission to marry Stephanie.
It is an absolutely typical dad-doesn’t-like-the-guy-his-daughter-is-dating movie from beginning to end with one exception – this particular version can never sell any great reason for Stephanie to like Laird either. We understand why he would like her (she’s smart and inquisitive and attractive), but we don’t get the flipside of the equation.
We must presume that Stephanie’s attraction has to do with Laird being a good guy deep down, but just not someone who can express his affection appropriately. However, it very much feels as though the movie is arguing that Stephanie is choosing Laird as a fixer-upper, trying to turn him into the man of her dreams rather than searching for said man. Laird’s inner goodness softens our attitude towards him, but Stephanie trying to change him adds an oddness to her character.
Actually, that oddness is probably there anyway. Both Ned and the movie sell us on Stephanie and Ned having the closest of relationships but that runs counter to her hiding Laird for as long as she does.
The supporting characters don’t fare much better. Stephanie; Scotty; Barb; Laird’s butler-type guy, Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key); and really everyone who isn’t either Laird or Ned take a backseat in this movie. Their characters exist so as to amp up the difficulties Ned has with Laird and Laird’s semi-obliviousness to it all.
These two men are the only thing approaching fully-rounded characters in the movie and even they lack a sense of realness. Ned is lying about his business (which, perhaps, is a parallel to how Stephanie is lying to him, but doesn’t play out as one) and Laird can’t truly be as utterly dumb as he regularly acts. The latter may have hit it rich at a young age, but he can’t be so far gone that he doesn’t recognize that he has an absurdly sheltered world. And yet, he seemingly is that far gone.
Despite these problems, there are moments that cause laughs. These are few and far between and the movie overstays its welcome by at least 10 or 15 minutes, meandering on its way to the final credits, but some bits are funny… mostly the scatological ones.
photo credit: 20th Century Fox