Ned and Barb Fleming, and their 15-year-old-son Scott visit their eldest child, 22-year-old Stephanie in California, where she goes to college. The family live in Grand Rapids, Michigan where Ned runs a printing business. The Flemings expect to spend some family time with their daughter for Christmas, but from the moment they land, plans change. Stephanie introduces them to her new boyfriend Laird. He is immature, swears continuously and is a Silicon Valley multi-millionaire. Laird insists the Flemings stay in his hi-tech mansion and immediately he puts Ned off-side.
Father and daughter usually have a close relationship, but the more Ned discovers about Laird, the more he feels his relationship with Stephanie has changed for the worst. Laird is on a mission to win over the family, especially Ned.
WHY HIM? is a comedy directed by John Hamburg and co-written by him and Ian Helfer. The basic premise is familiar enough: over-protective father can’t accept his adult daughter making her own decisions.
Hamburg and Helfer make the new boyfriend superficially attractive and rich, but then make him a middle-class parents’ nightmare. He has no filter for normal conversation, so does not observe any of the niceties of day-to-day politeness. This is explained with the half-baked idea that Laird had no substantial parental figures. So most of the things that Laird says are about sex and everything he utters contains profanities. This is the movie’s go-to gag. A barrage of awkward sex talk in front of Stephanie’s parents and a never-ending stream of swearing. I found this immensely tiresome. Laird is played by James Franco and the movie relies entirely on his charm and his skill at playing a guileless man-child. The audience I saw this with seemed on board however, they laughed steadily throughout, but I was only intermittently amused.
The other comic idea was actually a two-for-one. #1:Those Wacky Californians and Their Zany Cutting Edge Ideas (Gourmet food as a gas! Paperless house!). This fits neatly into #2:Those Zany Millennials and Their Wacky Cutting Edge Ideas. Here the film shows more invention coming up with the kind of daft hipster concepts that might appeal to a young tech millionaire (Defensive parkour!). This kind of thing is as a modern as the 1962 Jimmy Stewart movie MR HOBBS TAKES A VACATION (Beatniks!). Most off the weird innovations in the house (Computerised Japanese toilet!) are under the care of Laird’s Estate Manager Gustav played by the reliably energetic Keegan-Michael Key.
Other performers include Cedric the Entertainer, the disembodied voice of Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco, Griffin Gluck as Scott Fleming and Zoey Deutch as Stephanie. Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally play Mom and Dad Fleming and they are great at coming up with comic double-takes and stilted reactions to the weirdness unfolding around them, but I still felt a little cheated that they weren’t really given the opportunity to let rip. Both have shown us what they can do comedically on television, Cranston as Hal in Malcolm in the Middle and Mullally as Karen in Will and Grace, so it seemed an opportunity was going begging.
WHY HIM? is an adequate comedy that will suit undemanding audiences wanting to have some laughs over the holidays. It gets as far as it does on the talents of Franco, Cranston and Mullally.
USA | 116 minutes (5/10)