REVIEW: Why Him?
Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Griffin Gluck, Keegan-Michael Key
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Why Him? is the best Judd Apatow movie that Judd Apatow had nothing to do with: it’s sweet, raunchy, big-hearted, and very, very funny.
Sometimes the term, “high concept” doesn’t have to involve groundbreaking special effects or a mega-budget. In the case of the comedy, Why Him?, the high concept in question is also deliriously low at the same time: Bryan Cranston versus James Franco. Just the idea of putting these two unlikely heavyweights together in a film is juicy enough, but when you throw in a simple-but-rich-with-comic-opportunity story (courtesy of Jonah Hill, Ian Helfer, and the film’s director, John Hamburg) and an ingeniously cast rogue’s gallery of supporting players, the results take the concept several hilarious steps further. Kind of like Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? with the racial kicker replaced with a millennial twist, Why Him? is like the best Judd Apatow movie that Judd Apatow had nothing to do with: it’s sweet, raunchy, big-hearted, and very, very funny.
Breaking Bad legend, Bryan Cranston, is Ned Fleming, a suburban dad none too happy when his daughter, Stephanie (Zoey Deutch, the daughter of Back To The Future’s Lea Thompson and Pretty In Pink director, Howard Deutch…now that’s a pedigree!), starts dating James Franco’s eccentric, foul-mouthed young multimillionaire, Laird Mayhew, who has made his considerable fortune in the world of video games. Desperate to impress, Laird invites the Fleming clan, including Stephanie’s more welcoming mum, Barb (Megan Mullally), and her suitably impressed teenage brother, Scotty (Griffin Gluck), over to his palatial, hilariously hi-tech home (which comes complete with a Siri-style operating system, which Laird tapped The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco to voice!) for the Christmas holidays. They all soon start tripping over the generation gap with often gut-busting results.
Directed with freewheeling, improvisational flair by a very much on safe ground John Hamburg (who penned Meet The Parents and helmed I Love You, Man, Along Came Polly, and Safe Men), the best thing about the very good Why Him? is its winning generosity of spirit. This is no raging war between people that are at chest-beating loggerheads, but rather the series of gentle explosions that occur when millennial looseness rubs against a more buttoned-down, cautious value system. Crucially, all of the characters in Why Him? are truly likeable. In one of his best performances, James Franco is a joy as Laird, who – despite the tattoos, hyperactive libido, lack of boundaries, and bad language – is like a big puppy dog who genuinely wants to make everybody happy. Similarly, Bryan Cranston’s Ned is no shut-down curmudgeon, but rather a decent man thrown into a situation that he doesn’t quite understand. Their chemistry is comically combustible.
Everyone else in the cast amusingly jumps up to their level, with Will & Grace star, Megan Mullally, hilarious in more restrained mode (save for one scene in which she really lets loose after vaping marijuana at a massive party thrown by Laird, complete with Steve Aoki on the decks), and Key And Peele breakout, Keegan-Michael Key, an utter hoot as Gustav, Laird’s flamboyant, racially nebulous personal assistant. Zooey Deutch makes the most of a largely thankless role, while Griffin Gluck is great as her loving-it brother. A host of minor supporting roles and cameos (Cedric The Entertainer, Zack Pearlman, Adam Devine, Casey Wilson, Andrew Rannells), meanwhile, adds enthusiastically to the mirth-making.
This is the kind of comedy that most critics look derisively down their collective noses at, but you know, whatever. Though the sentiment does get a little, um, sticky at the climax, and the narrative is decidedly loose, Why Him? is a comic winner with its big, sloppy heart in the right place.