I was not expecting to enjoy this film. Director and co-writer John Hamburg specializes in the comedy of embarrassment, as seen in such pictures as Along Came Polly and Meet the Parents. His last film was Zoolander 2, which drove me out of the theater. But I have to admit, Why Him? is likable and funny.
It earns its R rating with raw language and raunchy gags that stretch the definition of what some people call good taste. But unlike other films of this stripe, Why Him? allows two talented actors to bring their characters to life with just the right balance of believability and comic exaggeration.
In a welcome return to comedy, Bryan Cranston plays a Midwestern businessman whose daughter has fallen in love with a Silicon Valley billionaire, played with cheerful abandon by James Franco. He is a wildly self-indulgent eccentric with too much disposable income who lives in an ultramodern mansion with a private zoo. He genuinely loves Stanford student Zoey Deutch, the daughter of Cranston and Megan Mullally. When the entire family, including Deutch’s kid brother, come to visit for Christmas, Franco sets the stage to ask Cranston for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Needless to say, Father is aghast at this prospect.
Hamburg and co-writer Ian Helfer (working from a story they initiated with Jonah Hill) build in a backstory that explains Franco’s behavior: he never knew his father and his mother wasn’t there for him. He’s never had parental figures to guide him; he’s like a pet who means well but hasn’t had toilet training.
Keegan-Michael Key plays Franco’s endlessly patient, German-accented aide-de-camp and life coach, who tries to keep him on track. It’s a broad performance that pays off in big laughs. Everyone gets a chance to shine, including the always-welcome Mullally and Griffin Gluck, who plays her adolescent son. The winsome Deutch is essentially the straight-woman here and does her job well.
But the film belongs primarily to Cranston, as an uptight dad, and Franco, as a freewheeling guy with no boundaries or filters who wants to be his son-in-law. The movie works because they do their job so well. Cranston isn’t a boob, but he is stubborn and foolish, which gets him into awkward situations. Franco’s character is extreme but he has a good heart, and that’s the key to the movie’s success.
I can’t call this a guilty pleasure because it sneaked up on me; I normally don’t enjoy this kind of R-rated humor. Why Him? isn’t destined to be a critical darling, I’m sure…but it made me laugh.