It’s no wonder why James Franco has the wrinkles of a smile burned into his star-studded face; he’s played more stoners, scoundrels, and screwballs with an insatiable grimace than anyone can count by this point, and he’s hilarious at doing so. His role as Laird Mayhew in the typical “father v. fiancée” formulaic comedy is the most recent installment to this repertoire of character-types – in fact, it is perhaps his latest and greatest addition.
The strength of his performance comes not only from his surprisingly well-developed character; it also stems from how the other cast members interpret their characters and play off one another, including Bryan Cranston as Franco’s sworn-father-figure-enemy. Tightly wound Ned Fleming (Cranston) is compelled by daughter Stephanie (charmingly portrayed by Zoey Deutch) to give her eccentric boyfriend a chance, to that he reluctantly agrees. Although this commonly adapted and re-adapted formula risks suffering from some overused lines and gags – Why Him? isn’t of exception – the charming chemistry between its cast elevates the could-be tired comedy to a new level, where it preserves the integrity of even some of the more plainly-crude-and-stupid humor in the film.
Over the holidays, Ned Fleming and family visit daughter Stephanie out in California to meet her boyfriend. Instead, they are greeted by their worst-nightmare: well-intentioned but awkward and quirky Silicon Valley billionaire, Laird. A key aspect of any film that has potential to foster superior quality is character exposition – the audience needs to know who they will be watching for the duration of the movie in order to ensure their enjoyment.
Why Him? wastes no time establishing who the characters are, therefore leaving itself plenty of time to incorporate jokes at the sake of their awkwardness and encounters. The Fleming family lays a solid foundation in which comedy may foster and develop. Cranston and Deutch’s performances electrify and familiarize the warm and fuzzy, father-daughter relationship and it is paired perfectly with performances by Megan Mullally as Barb Fleming and Griffin Gluck as their son Scotty.
From the moment we meet with the close-knit unit, it’s hilarious; Scotty’s tried and true devotion to his father’s failing printing company places him on the straight and narrow — and if there’s anything a Franco character enjoys doing, it is taking and corrupting the innocent to a point of hilarity. Laird and Scotty build a pseudo-Bromance saturated with amusing exchanges and uproarious one-liners, some of which become key jokes in the film.
The relationship between Laird and Scotty introduces another motif of the film; the transition of technologies between generations and the dissonance it produces are put at the mercy of director and writer John Hamburg. There are heaps of opportunities to produce humor within this realm and Hamburg doesn’t miss many. His characters are forced into awkward situations through which they must struggle tirelessly against technology to find their way out.
While not all of the jokes land with such success – some either miss the punch line because they are too busy ruminating on their own crude and discomforting qualities or the mark was never clear to begin with – there are several more than to be expected. I went in with the assumption Why Him? had plugged most of its prize-winning moments into the trailers. However, that is thankfully not the case.
The theme of generational dissonance presents multiple opportunities for success in humor and serves as a way for the movie to target a wide range of audience members. I knew while I was watching that if my father were to see the movie, he would laugh at the enthusiastic mention of The Pink Panther and the symbolic relationship between Laird and his right-hand man Gustav. It was also clear that the special appearance by KISS struck a chord (ba-da-ching!) with audience members as the band was met with laughter and fan-girl-like enthusiasm.
Summarily, Why Him? does an observably good job at rebooting a formula that is no stranger to comedy or Hamburg, for that matter. There are times the jokes do not completely land with great finesse, but those faulty moments are met with blistering charm from the cast chemistry. It is also a film that would be fun to watch in a concentrated audience spanning generations, as you might with your family.
This only comes at my recommendation, however, if you are comfortable with yourself and know your family well enough to decide whether or not you can collectively handle watching a 15-year old boy be nearly-assaulted by a dead moose saturated in its own urine. You’d really have to see the movie to understand… and you should! Treat yourself to some crude jokes this holiday season and indulge in Why Him? – we could all use a few more laugh lines as deep as James Franco’s, anyways.
Photos courtesy of: 20th Century Fox