Michael Simon ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Why Him? is your classic cookie-cutter comedy. There’s the uptight, by-the-books family, the uproarious, bursting at the seams new boyfriend, and a slew of zany characters and situations to keep it all rolling. Now, this style can easily lead to some pretty big failures, but Why Him? manages to scrape by, making it work mainly because of the dedication of its cast. With a script as ridiculous as this one, a movie needs some pretty committed actors to sell it and carry it through to the audience. Luckily, that’s where Why Him? shines.
Bryan Cranston is a legend in the making right now. Having started off as the doofus dad in Malcolm in the Middle and evolving into the cancer-ridden teacher turned meth manufacturer, Walter White in Breaking Bad, his attention has now turned to the big screen. After his recent successful endeavors as LBJ on the Broadway play All the Way – later adapted into an HBO movie – earned him a Tony Award and the titular character in last year’s feature film Trumbo earned him an Oscar nomination and several Emmy nominations, it was time for something different. Here, his character Ned is the straight man to James Franco‘s insane character, Laird.
This is a duo that works better than it probably should. Cranston is able to pull off the stuffy, annoyed father with high expectations, and Franco has pretty much built his career around characters like Laird. But both actors really go in with full force, allowing the movie to ride on their performance. With every zany swear word from Laird or every exasperated expression from Ned, the crowd gets drawn in. It’s fun to watch these actors do their thing because it’s obvious that they’re having fun too.
A large part of what grounds this movie is Cranston as a straight man, who serves as an extension of the audience. Much of what happens in Why Him? is just off-the-walls and ridiculous, but having a character who is constantly calling out how ridiculous it all is makes it much more enjoyable.
Now, of course, Why Him? is as predictable as comedies come nowadays. Most of the plot can be easily seen, although there are some clever twists when it comes to the rivalry between Ned’s printing company and Laird’s personal vendetta against all paper products. The audience may not be expecting the millennial vs. baby boomer fight that drives some of the underlying conflicts, so that’s a fun surprise.
Why Him? also manages to have the comedy equivalent of Chekhov’s gun; if you see or hear something ridiculous in passing, it’s all but guaranteed that it’s going to come back again for some sort of payoff. Now, some of these work much better than others – such as a stuffed moose suspended in a glass case of urine – but it’s nice to see that the movie follows through with whatever it takes the time to set up.
As for the supporting characters, it’s a fun bunch that varies from pretty good to scene-stealing. Ned’s wife and son have some great bits as they wrestle between the strict father and the fun boyfriend. Laird’s assistant Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key) has some amazing gags with both Ned and Laird that make him one of the best parts of the movie. Additionally, Ned’s computer geek associate has some fun moments from the sidelines as well. And of course, the center of the movie would be Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), torn between her father and her boyfriend and their conflicting personalities. She’s a decent character who serves as the heart of the movie, but she winds up flip-flopping far too much just to steer the plot one way or another.
Overall, Why Him? is probably exactly what the viewer expects it to be. It takes a familiar style and places dedicated actors in some whacky roles. Everyone in the movie is having fun and not taking themselves too seriously; the audience would be wise to do the same. Relax, sit back, and enjoy some mindless, fun, comedy.
Overall Grade: B
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