Sometimes questions shouldn’t be begged in the titles of pieces lacking the substance to back up or even fully answer the suggested question. Why Him? Falls victim to this trope.
Why him? Why me? Why see this movie?
Director: John Hamburg
Release Date: December 23, 2016
Why Him? is the story of a wholesome Midwest family from Michigan comprised of a well-regarded father Ned Fleming (Brian Cranston) who runs a printing business, his loving wife Barb Fleming (Megan Mullally), and their clean-cut son Scotty Fleming (Griffin Gluck) who clearly idolizes his father. It turns out there’s also a sister, Stephanie Fleming (Zoey Deutch), but she’s in college in California, and apparently the family hasn’t used phones, the internet, Snapchat, Skype, Facetime, Messenger, or beam-me-over technology to keep in touch during the span she’s been away. It’s true that the Rocky Mountains are still a cool, inhospitable, Donner-party producing, block to human travel and communication.
It turns out that things aren’t so hot for this all-American family: the family printing business is in the red, and Dad doesn’t know what to do facing the challenges of a changing world and evolving print needs for his traditional client-base. Enter an, apparently, rare video phone call from said cutoff daughter and the testy revelation that she has a boyfriend (James Franco). Oh, and by the way Mom, Pops, and Junior: could you all forego any existing Christmas plans and fly to California to meet my boyfriend?
Obviously, they can, or else we wouldn’t have much of a movie.
California. A foreign land to a family from Michigan. Filled with strange peoples with stranger cultural habits. Or that seems to be the message of the film.
Writer-Director John Hamburg, perhaps best known for I Love You Man (a solid comedy pairing with Jason Segal and Paul Rudd from 2009) teamed with Johan Hill to pen this one: and it shows. The movie is filled with a veritable thesaurus for the f-bomb, as well as references to obscure (and not so obscure) sexual practices–hallmarks of the Shat Pack (Hill, Seth Rogen, Franco, Michael Cera, Segal, Jay Baruchel, and the rest of the amorphous gang that comprises this group of miscreants that would make Cranston’s Ned Fleming cringe, especially if any of them were to date his daughter. It doesn’t matter if they’re rich, incredibly rich, live in a mansion nestled into private acreage, or run their own business: if they have tattoos and swear (“cuss”) frequently, they’re not good enough for you or your daughter.
And thus begins the purported conflict of the movie. It doesn’t matter that Deucht’s Stephanie is bright, levelheaded, and apparently not prone to poor judgement; daddy knows best—and every fiber of his mid-west being is saying no to this California tech hippy. But to me, the premise seems as outdated as the beliefs espoused by Ned. Lots of people have tattoos these days, dare I say even in Michigan, and swearing is is the new Oxford English. The fact that this father is so opposed to this man he’s just met, primarily to either evidence A (poor judgement in the face of genuine excitement—if you’ve seen the trailers, you know Franco has a tattoo of the Fleming Christmas card done on his back) or evidence B (he’s sleeping with his daughter and therefore cannot be any good) does not ring true.
That’s the true problem with the film: it’s hollow, as its premises are loosely constructed anachronisms that might have been more applicable a decade ago. Who in the printing business, in this day and age, could be caught unaware of the shifting landscape and needs of their clientele? The Office was dealing with this same fact for much of the prescribed decade earlier.
Given these issues of authenticity and realism, there are laughs to be found. But these are the forced, awkward laughs that come from watching a son suddenly subjected to viewing an explicit love scene with his mother. It’s the forced awkward laughter that’s more cringe inducement by baby head cresting a vagina vis-à-vis Knocked Up. This awkward humor is reinforced by a score that is largely absent; large swaths of film are destroyed in conversational silence. When music does happen, it is conspicuous and perhaps feels forced (the one notable exception being a party designed to further emphasize the generational gap at work here.
Humor that does work is found in unexpected twists like cameos and extended cameos from Adam Devine and Keegan-Michael Key. Or in the Siri-wannabe Kaley Cuoco voice that lives in the airspace of Franco’s mansion.
This could have been done to better success, and I’d expect word of mouth box office results to confirm as much, especially given the level of talent featured in the film.