05th Jan2017

‘Why Him?’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Zoey Deutch, James Franco, Megan Mullally, Tangie Ambrose, Cedric the Entertainer, Griffin Gluck, Keegan-Michael Key, Jacob Kemp | Written by John Hamburg, Ian Helfer | Directed by John Hamburg

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In a change to their usual Christmas tradition, Ned (Bryan Cranston), the boss of a struggling printing company and overprotective but loving dad and his family visit his daughter at Stanford, where he meets his biggest nightmare: her well-meaning but socially awkward Silicon Valley billionaire boyfriend, Laird (James Franco). As per comedy tropes, a rivalry develops between Ned and Laird when the former finds himself lost in the high-tech world of the latter and learns that Laird is about to pop the question…

Writer/director John Hamburg has an interesting career to say the least. The writer behind Meet the Parents and I Love You, Man (a film I revist at least once a month); Hamburg can writetruly hilarious – and touching – comedies, but then he turns his hand to the two …Parents sequels and the (apologies to its fans) godawful Zoolander and its sequel. So to say I approached Why Him? with some trepidation is an understatement. Would it hit the mark like the former films, or sink like a comedy turd like his more recent scripts, Zoolander 2 and Little Fockers (urgh)?

Thankfully, Why Him? is a blazing success. A laugh-out-loud look at the generation gap. With bulls testicles and a Pink Panther homage…

Why Him?‘s story is nothing new. Hell, the idea of “in-laws” meeting for the first time isn’t even new for Hamburg! In the 80s this type of story would have seen straight-laced parents objecting to their daughters boyfriend who either a) loves to dance or b) is a “pot-smoking punk” (think Charlie Sheen in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Here it’s a dad stuck in his pre-technology ways versus an app-creating, technologically astute boyfriend – same character dynamic, just updated for todays audience.

Audiences familiarity with the situation means Why Him? must rely more on the performances of it’s cast and the characters they play to create the laughs than the story. Thankfully John Hamburg has two fantastic leads in Bryan Cranston and James Franco; and a scene-stealing superstar in Keegan-Michael Key – of TV’s Key and Peele and one of my favourite comedies of last year, Keanu – as Laird’s ‘estate manager’ Gustav. In fact it’s Key that provides Why Him?‘s biggest belly laughs, whether it be acting opposite Franco OR Cranston.

However it’s when both performance and story come together in unison that Why Him? truly reaches its comedic crescendo. Be it an extended “paperless toilet” scene which sees Cranston (somehow) manage to keep a straight face as the shocked father stuck on a Japanese toilet as Key’s Gustav has to kneel before him and operate the controls – which features later in a hilarious call back as Megan Mullally operates the “female cleansing” part of the toilet. Then there’s the Pink Panther-esque scenes of Gustav and Laird surprising each other with stealth kung-fu and “evasive parkour” which goes HORRIBLY wrong, leading to a scene which features heavily in the trailers for the film and is one of the, if not THE, grossest gag in the film!

Of course you can’t have gross-out gags and generational humour without a touchy-feely resolution and Why Him? does not disappoint – yes it might be cliched but it still makes for a great conclusion to a great movie. Though seeing two rock stars cameo in such wooden fashion does bring the cringe factor to those final moments…

Why Him? in in cinemas now.

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