Loosely, very loosely, inspired from a 2012 BBC TV sitcom with Andy Samberg called Cuckoo, Why Him? is a romantic Christmas comedy that starts with a decent premise, degenerates into f-bomb laden, crude humor, then redeems itself to a small degree towards the end with a couple of ok payoffs.
Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally are Ned and Barb Fleming, two decent, average mid-westerners who make their living from a print factory. The father and business owner is well respected by his colleagues, loved by both his wife and his California college student daughter, Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), and respected by his 15-year old son Scott (Griffin Gluck). And it’s Christmas. Stephanie has invited the family to fly out to the west coast to be with her for the season. Which they do. But there’s an issue. Stephanie has a boyfriend, and he’s not exactly the kind of guy a daughter would want to spring on dad without some kind of advanced warning.
First, after arriving at the airport and picked up by Stephanie, there’s the issue of where the family will be staying. Ned has booked a nice hotel, but Stephanie wants them to stay at her boyfriend’s house. Ned is worried that a college kid’s rental might not be appropriate for a whole family. Stephanie assures dad there will be plenty of room, and the boyfriend isn’t exactly a penniless student. In fact, he’s rich. Filthy rich.
The first clue that things might not be as mom and dad assumed is when they pull up at the driveway. Stephanie uses a facial recognition scanner to open the gates. Then there’s the long drive on private grounds to the house, passing a virtual zoo of grazing animals on either side of the dirt road; then there’s the house itself, a massive, modern construction of glass and steel; then, finally, there’s the boyfriend.
Laird Mayhew (James Franco) could not be a more welcoming, friendly, and generous host to his girlfriend’s family. He’s even built a bowling alley especially for Ned just because he knew that Stephanie’s father likes to bowl. But there are a few character issues. Laird, despite his friendliness and willingness to please, is a foul-mouthed, vulgar, usually shirtless, heavily tattooed guy, ten years Stephanie’s senior, possessing a ton of money and absolutely no filter. “You got a banging bod,” he tells mom, meant as a compliment but somehow coming out of his f-bomb laden, potty mouth as something considerably more lecherous. Naturally, Ned is appalled, later describing the boyfriend as an abject lunatic. He’s even more appalled when he discovers that Laird intends to propose to his daughter on Christmas Day.
Why Him? let’s itself down with way too much of its humor based on little more than a continual flow of f-bombs, mostly from Franco, and continual, lazy vulgarity. No doubt it’ll make its intended, younger audience laugh, but older audiences should be siding with dad. In fact, it’s Bryan Cranston’s expressions – never broad, always authentic – that feel right and give the most amusement; everything else about the film feels wrong. When we first see one of Laird’s work of arts in his living room (it’s a dead moose floating in a large tank of its own urine) you instinctively know that later the glass is somehow going to crack and dad will get the full blast of pee all over him. Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but isn’t it obvious?
The setting may be Christmas, but the film isn’t necessarily Christmas themed. The background, holiday trimming appears to be more a thing of marketable timing for a December release; it could have just as easily taken place in summer with a July 4th center. But there are a couple of running jokes that work. One is that Laird’s house is paperless; no writing paper, no toilet paper and certainly no newspapers. It parallels the trouble Ned is having with his print factory and the fact that the future (and frankly, most of the present) is electronic, nothing tangible. At a dinner party, Laird serves edible newspaper as a side dish. “Be careful, honey,” Ned says to his wife as she nibbles. “You’ll get full before you get to the funnies.” Another running gag is Ned and Barb’s love of Kiss, the rock band, which delivers a funny payoff near the end.
But perhaps the most amusing running joke is that of Justine, Laird’s personal Siri, voiced by TV’s Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory. Justine’s an in-house version of Hal 9000, an all seeing, all hearing computer that from time to time voices unsolicited advice on things she’s overheard. There’s even a funny reference to Cuoco’s sit-com and the money she earns per episode. Kaley Cuoco may not be a big screen talent (at least, not yet) and it’s only her voice we hear, but it’s an individual voice, and her comic timing is impeccable. Someone give that girl a Disney/Pixar character asap.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 106 Minutes Overall Rating: 4 (out of 10)