Why Him? completes the triptych of despair started by Bad Santa 2 and Office Christmas Party, American comedies built around supporting and subverting the festive spirit of the season. John Hamburg’s film is the least hateful of the bunch – it’s similar to the outwardly sweet-natured Judd Apatow comedies of yesteryear – but it’s also the least funny, in spite of its efforts to build its cringe comedy around a beating heart and soul. For while it’s true that a comedy should be applauded for trying to preach values of inclusivity over rampant political incorrectness, Why Him? does so in such a half-arsed (and thoroughly compromised) way that it often plays like a limp drama, never building the momentum it needs for its comedy to work.
Hamburg might be best known for co-writing Meet the Parents and its many subsequent aberrations, so it makes sense that he’s sticking to familiar territory here. Bryan Cranston plays Ned, a straight-laced patriarch to the Fleming household, which includes wife Barb (Megan Mullally), daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), and son Scotty (Griffin Gluck). When Stephanie invites her family to meet her tech entrepreneur boyfriend Laird Mayhew (James Franco), Ned is suitably appalled, since Laird – motor-mouthed, profane, bedecked in tattoos – is the kind of exaggerated parental nightmare that’s a firm staple of the genre.
The two men then engage in an oddly neutered pissing match over the affections of their beloved Stephanie. It should provide ample opportunity for cringe comedy, the two men lowering themselves beyond the limits of dignity in a war of old versus new. But Hamburg is so intent on keeping both his leads likeable that the comedy dies before it can even get started; the angles on the characters are so inflexible that the storyline goes nowhere, constantly resolving and unresolving itself in the least satisfying manner possible.
Cranston and Franco are good comedic actors, but struggle with the limits of the material. Mullally and Keegan-Michael Key as Mayhew’s vaguely foreign butler score the biggest laughs when they improvise outside the system. But Zoey Deutch, the breakout star of Everybody Wants Some!!, is wasted in a role that forces her to be the unfunny nagging nanny. If the script was a touch less infantile – treating swear words as punchlines – and more prepared to go to dark places, then there might have been something here. As it stands, Why Him? could simply be shortened to Why?
Why Him? is released nationwide on 26th December 2016.
Watch the trailer for Why Him? here: