REVIEW: ‘Why Him?’ delivers some laughs, lots of Cranston cringing

Why Him? delivers a few big laughs and lots of little chuckles thanks to its leads doing what they’ve built their careers on.

For James Franco, that means being a free-wheeling, well-meaning goof. For Bryan Cranston, on the other hand, it means being uptight and easily irked.

The films gets a lot of mileage out of those two oil-and-water traits. But the schtick does get tiresome after a while, and you’re left with what we all dread at the holidays.

Awkward family time.

What’s it about?

Cranston plays Ned Fleming, devoted, tweed-wearing husband, father of two and the “Big Cheese” of a Midwest-based printing company.

His pride and joy, aside from the company he runs, is Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), his eldest, recently off following his footsteps at Stanford. As the holidays approach, Ned gets the surprise no dad enjoys receiving from “Daddy’s Girl”: Stephanie has a boyfriend, one she neglected to mention until his existence was revealed accidentally.

That boyfriend is Laird (Franco), and Laird can’t wait to meet the Flemings. He intends to win them over any way he can, but Stephanie, knowing how her dad can be, wants to try to control the getting-to-know process.

What follows is absolute bedlam. Buttoned-up Ned just can’t handle the tatted-up, potty-mouthed, no-social-filter Laird. Meanwhile, Laird, who wants to marry Stephanie, can’t figure out why he and “Dad” can’t connect.

Add to the mix Laird bonding almost immediately with Ned’s son Scotty (Griffin Gluck) and slowly winning over wife Barb (Megan Mullaly), and Ned’s on the defensive from minute one. “An octopus,” Ned comes to see Laird as, wrapping his tentacles around everything he loves.

It’s only a matter of time (and a wild party and lots of misunderstandings) before the tension explodes. Merry Christmas, Flemings!

Why Him teaser one-sheet

The Art of the Uncomfortable

Before Cranston carved a new niche for himself in pop culture as Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” he played Hal, the man-child dad in “Malcolm in the Middle.” While Ned is a far more competent father figure Hal was, its tough watching Cranston get defensive and territorial to not think of the earlier role.

That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. Cranston’s cringing can be particularly funny, especially if audiences are repulsed or just plain befuddled right along with his character.

The strength in what Cranston does here is that he makes Ned relatable at all. Any male audience members who’ve raised a daughter would be hard pressed to not be rooting for Ned at least at the outset.

It’s also helps that Franco is in his full-on comedic weirdo mode. It’s pretty clear the story (by Jonah Hill and director John Hamburg) and the role were made for him, and he goes for broke having Laird push all of Ned’s buttons.

The back and forth between the two performers is fun to watch, for a while. Not every gag gets laugh-out-loud results — by the end, you may just find yourself groaning and covering your eyes.

Keegan is key

As enjoyable as the leads in Why Him? are, arguably the supporting cast delivers the most consistent laughs.

The standout here, as he is just about whenever he shows up in film, is Keegan-Michael Key. Key simply steals every scene he appears in playing Laird’s major domo, the Cato to Laird’s Clouseau, Gustav.

Gustav is butler, bodyguard, cheerleader, and life coach to Laird, and desperately wants to help him win over the Flemings. Thus, his exasperation with Laird’s bungling efforts comes to rival Ned’s annoyance.

Winsome Zoey Deutch is lovely and charming as the “Malcolm” in this Middle, and Kaley Cuoco from “The Big Bang Theory” also gets a small but memorable role in Why Him?, playing herself, sort of.

Worth seeing?

As far as holiday-themed comedies go, Why Him? isn’t the most enjoyable one out there in 2016. That title belongs to Office Christmas Party, which is more consistently entertaining.

But you could do worse than Why Him? if you’re looking for something cute and goofy at the movies on Christmas Day. If you’re a fan of Cranston and/or Franco, that will help with your enjoyment considerably.

However, if you’re not a fan of the F-word, avoid this film entirely. The F-bomb count in the film’s final cut must be in the triple digits.

Why Him?

Starring Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullaly, Griffin Gluck, Cedric the Entertainer, and Keegan-Michael Key. Directed by John Hamburg.
Running Time: 151 minutes
Rated R for strong language and sexual material throughout.

Felix Albuerne
Felix Albuerne
One-time Blockbuster Video manager, textbook editor, trivia host, and community college English/Humanities teacher. Now a digital media producer, part-time film critic, amateur foodie, semi-retired beer snob, unabashed geek, and still very much a work in progress.