why-him-bryan-cranston-james-franco

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2016.

Starring: Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally

Director: John Hamburg

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: R for Getting a Little Loose with the Language

Release Date: December 23, 2016

When I first saw the trailer for Why Him?, I thought, “Well, if there’s anyone who can wring something worthwhile out of this stale premise, it might just be Bryan Cranston and James Franco.” It’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for the 21st century: instead of a black man marrying a white woman, it’s James Franco. This particular version of Franco is Laird Mayhew, a vulgar and oversharing but very sweet billionaire video game mogul. He butts heads with father of his girlfriend Ned Fleming (Cranston), the high-strung head of a struggling Detroit printing company. A big deal is made about how alike Ned and Laird are, which is a bit of an exaggeration, though they are both honest to a fault. It is also striking how similar these characters are to their stars’ past roles. Ned is a harried dad that is a variation of the same vein as Walter White or Malcolm in the Middle’s Hal. And Franco is as irrepressible as always.

So, the leads are all set to bite into the gags, and they are not timid about exploring the explicit shenanigans the script leads them into. But the marks of assembly-line modern film comedy (i.e., unimaginative editing and cinematography that favors simple coverage of all angles) cramp their style. That lack of directorial personality is a shame, because the film has some fascinating and relatively unique ideas at its core. For example, Laird was raised by a single mother who never let him outside the house much, which renders Why Him? an interesting examination of someone who never had the experience to learn social skills.

Why Him? also aims to go thematically deeper, as Ned’s predicament touches upon the disappearance of traditional Midwest manufacturing jobs – a sort of Office meets Brexit, as it were. This does not play as a huge concern, but it is a hard topic to avoid in 2016. More pressing, and more timeless, are the women-friendly bona fides at play. This may be no fiery treatise, but the underlying message is undeniably feminist. The film is positively aware that the girlfriend/daughter (Zoey Deutch) is no mere MacGuffin, but a legitimate person in her own right.

Why Him? is Recommended If You LikeDaddy’s Home But Wish It Had Been a Good Movie, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner But Wish That James Franco Had Played Sidney Poitier, Breaking Bad But Wish That James Franco Had Played the Methamphetamine

Grade: 3.5 out 5 Bidet-Style Toilets

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