Film review: Why Him?

Zoey Deutch as Stephanie Fleming and James Franco as Laird Mayhew.
Zoey Deutch as Stephanie Fleming and James Franco as Laird Mayhew.
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There are moments of bad taste tomfoolery in John Hamburg’s comedy, which suggest the titular question alluding to a level-headed daughter’s inappropriate choice of boyfriend should be Why Bother? or Why Should We Care?

The director’s scatty script, co-written by Ian Helfer, doesn’t have the wit or smarts to answer these simple questions.

Time and again, the film aims low for laughs, opening with an exposed crotch during a sexually charged video chat, and climaxing (literally) on a paper-free toilet with pleasurable douche settings.

Miraculously, a few of the politically incorrect gags hit their target and co-stars Megan Mullally and Keegan-Michael Key scene-steal mercilessly with perfectly timed showcases of physical humour.

Why Him? is Meet The Parents with a generational twist, witnessing the carnage wrought when a nervous father and mother spend Christmas with their future son-in-law and discover they could be inheriting a potty-mouthed man-child.

We share the old folks’ sense of bewilderment to the bittersweet end, even when their lovestruck daughter pleads, “I wouldn’t have asked you to fly out here and miss Christmas in Michigan for the first time if he wasn’t important to me.”

On the evidence here, their child should be sectioned.

Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) runs his family’s printing business, but times are tough and the company’s balance sheet is in the red.

Co-worker Lou Dunne (Cedric The Entertainer) is convinced Ned can engineer “a Christmas miracle” and conjure a high-value contract out of the ether.

In the midst of this crisis, Ned, his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) and their 15-year-old son Scotty (Griffin Gluck) fly to San Remo to spend the holidays with their beloved daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch).

She intends to introduce them to her new beau, millionaire app developer Laird Mayhew (James Franco), who “has no filter... but his heart is in the right place”.

The Flemings are impressed by Laird’s modernist home replete with a priceless sculpture of a dead moose suspended in its own urine.

However, the host’s manic behaviour, which is repeatedly reined in by caring estate manager Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key), sets alarm bells ringing.

“By Christmas morning, you’re going to be calling me son,” grins Laird to a despairing Ned.

Why Him? once again casts Franco as a gurning goofball, who is several baubles short of a decked tree. He flashes almost every inch of his body in pained service of laughter, while Oscar nominee Cranston forlornly attempts to inject gravitas. It’s impossible to discern method in the screenwriters’ madness, especially when they cannot articulate one compelling reason for Stephanie to fall in love with a free spirit 10 years her senior and 100 IQ points her inferior.

Love may be blind, but in Hamburg’s picture it’s also deaf and dumb.

Rating: **

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