Director: John Hamburg
Starring: Zoey Deutch, James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Tangie Ambrose
Picture the scene – you’ve met the love of your life, he’s sweet, charming, and does well for himself, and believe it or not, you two are a perfect match! But there’s a catch – you don’t know if Daddy’s going to like him. Oh no, he’s nothing like your father; they have nothing in common; and Daddy hates him! Sound familiar? 16 years ago, a little picture starring a young Ben Stiller hit theaters. ‘Why Him?’ is a faster, more technologically advanced, and racier version of ‘Meet the Parents’. For a more evolved culture, ‘Why Him?’ is a natural modernization of the Stiller hit – a relevant redux of the tired father vs. fiancé formula.
Stephanie Fleming (Zoey Deutch) is a Daddy’s girl, the daughter of Detroit printing press “mogul” Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston). Stephanie has met a guy, who happens to be tech billionaire playboy Laird Mayhew (James Franco). When Stephanie brings the family out to California for Christmas at Laird’s mansion to meet her new beau, all hell breaks loose as Laird’s free spirit and lavish lifestyle rub Ned the wrong way. From freely exploring all the uses for various curse words, proudly displaying his racy tats, digging his “octopus tentacles” into the rest of the family, and generally being a bad influence on young Scotty Fleming (Griffin Gluck), Laird creates the worst first impression on Stephanie’s conservative, protective dad. Until he ultimately comes around like they always do.
Where ‘Why Him?’ succeeds is in its grandiose nature. The extreme affluence of tech’s nouveau riche personified through in-house, ‘Top-Chef’-winning personal cooks, new-tech Japanese toilets, and exotic pets. The hearty laughs run hand in hand with high class, romantic notions of greater wealth and prosperity. ‘Why Him?’ helps you lust for the good life with all its sweet treats and amenities.
However, ‘Why Him?’ relies heavily on fatigued tropes of trying to win your future in-laws favor and introducing the one you love to family. It’s been done before and it’s been done better. Whereas Gaylord Focker (Stiller in ‘Meet the Parents’) was a nice guy in plain clothes, Laird Mayhew is nice guy under decades worth of emotional baggage. ‘Why Him?’ tries to make too many small statements on getting to know the real person behind the tattoos that drag away from the aesthetic. ‘Why Him?’ is supposed to be a comedy not a thinly veiled social commentary.
From the superb Keegan-Michael Key performance as Gustav, Laird’s estate manager, to the fun cameos from Elon Musk, Gene Simmons, and Peter Criss, there is a lot to be entertained by in ‘Why Him?’ The laughs come cheap and fast in the manner that comedy films have trended towards recently (see: ‘Office Christmas Party’ and ‘Keanu’). The spectacle adds to every moment, but in the end, ‘Why Him?’ is a run back version of a slew of films you’ve seen before. The dad comes around, the guy gets the girl, and they all live happily ever after. Isn’t that how its supposed to be?