Dismal and Bloated, ‘Why Him?’ is a Dreary Comedy Effort

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Why Him?

2016 has been a dire year for studio comedies. Talented casts have been squandered and reliable comedy filmmakers have churned out forgettable comedies that are formulaic and simply not funny. How bad of a year has it been? A heartbreaking drama like Manchester by the Sea has more laughs than the average studio comedy this year. Closing out this dismal year is the dismal comedy Why Him?, a fitting exercise in comedic futility that takes an incredibly thin premise and stretches it far beyond any semblance of reason as the predictable and ineffectual gags pile up in layer of layer inanity. In a year where most studio comedies have been quite dreadful, Why Him? ranks among the bottom of the pack.

Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) runs a struggling printing company in Detroit. He’s happily married to Barb (Megan Mullally) and they have two kids, Scotty (Griffin Gluck), a teenager that Ned is grooming to inherit the family business, and Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), who is attending Stanford. Stephanie has just started dating someone and invites her family to the West Coast to meet him over Christmas. Upon arriving, the family is surprised to be staying at the posh, expansive home of Laird Mayhew (James Franco), a tattooed, foul-mouthed, and eccentric tech millionaire who earned his fortune through developing apps. For Ned, he can’t fathom what his daughter sees in Laird, whose off-putting behavior grates the patriarch’s nerves. But this feud is a one-way street as Ned seeks information to discredit his daughter’s lover while Laird is welcoming and giving to his girlfriend’s family, sometimes over the top with a child-like earnestness.

The title and the premise suggests that Ned is going to have to learn the reasons that Stephanie might be drawn to Laird. But the film from director John Hamburg and written by Hamburg and Ian Helfer (based on a story by Jonah Hill, Hamburg, and Helfer) is entirely uninteresting Stephanie’s perspective on anything. The charismatic Zoey Deutch, who was wonderful in Everybody Wants Some!!, is wasted in a thankless role that basically renders her a prop to be sought after by two men. Perhaps sensing that the movie is absurdly dominated by the male perspective, there’s a scene inserted late into the film where Stephanie asserts that she has agency. While it’s nice that the character actually says it, it would be far more effective had the preceding 100 minutes actually shown us something of the sort.

The sins of Why Him? might be forgiven had the film, you know, actually been funny. Instead this is as unimaginative as it gets, with countless gags that are visible from a mile away. The entire idea that Laird is unsuitable for Stephanie is simply rooted in his coarse language and his poorly thought out tattoos. Once again, I’m wondering why so many comedies these days are determined to soft the rough edges of its characters, as if R-rated humor has to have equal measure heart and raunch. None of the jokes in the film’s bloated 110-minute running time have even the slightest bit of surprise to them and all the edge of a deflated beach ball.

Amazingly, both Franco and Cranston seem to be giving it their all despite the fact that the script for Why Him? is lacking in every conceivable facet. The idea of a millennial getting rich off developing apps has become a trite cliché that persists due to laziness more than anything else. Another spirited performance in the film comes from Keegan-Michael Key as Gustav, the caretaker for Laird’s estate. Taking on an absurd German accent, Key, as he consistently does, goes way over the top but there’s little in the material to elicit the slightest of chuckles. The other ineffectual aspects of Why Him? that take up an inordinate amount of screen time involve a foul-mouthed form of Siri (voiced by Kaley Cuoco) and an automated toilet that requires no toilet paper. These obvious scenes run on and on without a laugh to earn their running time, which basically sums up Why Him? in a microcosm.

Why Him? represents everything that’s gone wrong with studio comedies this past year. It has a talented cast and paper-thin premise. There aren’t really jokes in the movie, just an array of pop culture references and obvious pratfalls. At least in the past you could survive a wretched piece of comedy knowing that it would only be 90 minutes of life squandered, but Why Him? is another in a long line of recent comedies that dispenses with a merciful running time and more than overstays its welcome.

Why Him?
  • Overall Score
1

Summary

A laughless comedy with obvious gags, Why Him? stretches out its paper-thin premise to the point of tedium.

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