Movie Review: Why Him?

A late Christmas comedy was not worth the wait

Why Him? (Proč právě on?)
Directed John Hamburg
With James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Griffin Gluck, Keegan-Michael Key

When a holiday-themed film comes out in early January, it means that the distributor didn't think it could stand up to the competition. Why Him? centers on plans for a big Christmas party that surprisingly does not go as planned.


The basic setup is nothing too original. A daughter wants to introduce her boyfriend to her parents. The new spin on the idea is that the boyfriend has made a huge fortune in designing video games but never finished school. The girl's parents, of course, have different ideas for what their daughter should do.

The film starts out with crude humor, seldom aspiring to go any higher. Flatulence on the soundtrack followed by embarrassed faces is one of the more drawn out comic scenes in the film. Endless foul language from one of the main characters is the other joke the film has to offer. After that, the comedy is a bit thin.

The cast actually has some fairly respectable actors, who all should have a chat with their agents for getting them in this mess. James Franco has been positioning himself as more than just an actor, dabbling in teaching, painting, directing and writing, as well as charity work. He has won a Golden Globe, among other awards. In Why Him?, he is the “him” in question. He plays a character called Laird Mayhew, a tattoo-covered self-made rich dropout who can't say a sentence without cursing. It is a big step backwards in his career. Of note though, the paintings seen in the film allegedly by a famous modern artist are actually by Franco.

Somehow Laird has become mixed up with Stanford student Stephanie Fleming (Zoey Deutch), but she has not mentioned it to her conservative Midwestern parents, Ned (Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad) and Barb (Megan Mullally). The parents find out about the romance in one of the film's first scenes when Laird walks into Stephanie's room and takes off all of his clothes while she is on a Skype link to her father, Ned, with all of his co-workers and family watching. Of course, the connection gets frozen on a closeup of Laird's naked backside.

This leads to a hurried invitation for the family to go to California to meet the new boyfriend, setting up the attempted comedy of errors. Stephanie does not tell her parents or brother, Scotty (Griffin Gluck), who Laird is. She surprises them by driving to his huge modern-art-filled estate, where Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key) is the estate manager.

Key, of the TV comedy team Key & Peele, plays his role with a German accent, as if saying lame dialogue that way makes it automatically funnier. He actually is the only one in the cast to wrestle some weak laughs out of the material, but his cultured too-cool European act grows a bit tiresome as the film drags on.

One recurring bit has Gustav sneak attacking Laird, to improve his defenses. Ned mentions The Pink Panther series, where the same thing happens. Gustav denies any knowledge of the movies and after hearing about them from Ned says they sound racist, and he throws Ned a disapproving look. Laird in another sneak attack throws a live chicken in self defense. Both exchanges are a bit cringe-worthy, as racism and animal abuse aren't really that funny at all.

Laird keeps making bad impressions, walking around shirtless to show off his tattoos, including one of Stephanie, and encouraging young Scotty to join him in using foul language. Paper-free toilets eventually play a big role in the alleged humor, as does an art work of an animal suspended in its own urine — a reference to both Andres Serrano and Damien Hirst.

To help save the proceedings, there are a number of cameo appearances from a high tech billionaire, a celebrity chef and half of a famous rock act. There is little they can do to help though.

The script comes from John Hamburg and Ian Helfer, and the film was directed by Hamburg. He wrote both Zoolander films, the Meet the Parents films and the comedies Safe Men and Along Came Polly. All of those have some level of successful if silly humor. Why he filled this effort with toilet jokes and other immature gimmicks is a question left unanswered, as he is capable of much better.

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