Why Him? is a fairly standard holiday comedy that works surprisingly well, mostly due to the film’s inherent awareness of what it is. Every predicted scene plays out as such, but there’s a surprising amount of sincerity to the film that feels earned. Most of all, however, is the film’s comedy; the film is spitting out a countless supply of jokes, and a fairly high amount of them actually work.
Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) is a business CEO who’s whisked away to California by his daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) in order to meet her boyfriend, Laird Mayhew (James Franco) over Christmas. Laird’s eccentricities and lack of filter immediately catch Ned off guard, and the holiday takes a turn for the worst when Laird seeks Ned’s permission to marry Stephanie. Desperate to seek Ned’s blessing, Laird begins on a journey to earn respect, indulging him in his bizarre and odd lifestyle.
The film is simple, and it keeps it that way. The subplots are kept minimal at best, and the film focuses on the central character dynamic between Ned and Laird. While there are some extended gags that don’t work, a majority of the jokes hit, and the film doesn’t hold back from some raunchy, yet still entertaining, jokes. There’s also a surprising amount of heart; despite all the ridiculous jokes, there is a genuine motivation and arc for both Ned and Laird, and while they’re ones we’ve seen before, they do work for this film.
Bryan Cranston steps out of his comfort zone with this character, and while it does sometime feel like a caricature of his other roles, Cranston has a great sense of comedic timing that adds subtlety to a fairly surface level comedy. While we’ve seen James Franco in comedic roles like this before, we do get a different type of character from here, and Franco’s commitment to such a warped character psychology does give more sincerity to the performance. However, the film’s standout is supporting player Keegan- Michael Key as Laird’s bodyguard/ housekeeper Gustav; Key gives an utterly strange performance that is by far the film’s best quality, giving an eccentricity to an otherwise basic story.
There’s nothing new to the table in Why Him?, but it’s well done for what it is and ranks among the funnier films we’ve seen this year. While there’s a mock sincerity to many comedies, there’s a genuine character clash and subtext that compliments, rather than distracts from the main comedy. Outside of a few failed gags, Why Him? is solid entertainment with some rock solid performances. Grade: B-