After the disappointing couplet of Bad Santa 2 and Office Christmas Party, the prospect of another yuletide Hollywood flick was about as desirable as working a shift on Christmas Eve with Ebeneezer Scrooge. Fortunately what we have here is a veritable case of 3rd time lucky. Why Him? is an absolute Christmas cracker. Writer and Director John Hamburg (I Love You, Man, Along Came Polly) collaborated on the story with the irrepressible Jonah Hill (21/22 Jump Street). The pair have delivered a smart, engaging and consistently funny film with the inspired casting of James Franco (The Night Before) and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) in the lead roles proving to be a winning formula.
Essentially a culture clash comedy, the story centres on a familiar genre trope where a doting father wholeheartedly disapproves of his daughter’s boyfriend. Cranston plays the wholesome patriarch Ned Fleming, a hard working every-man whose printing business has hit a rocky patch. Daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) is the apple of his eye, so when it is inadvertently revealed that she is in a relationship with the feral, foul mouthed Laird Mayhew (Franco), daddy is less than impressed. The fact that Laird is a self made Silicon Valley billionaire does little to quell his disdain. Reluctantly, he agrees to spend the holiday period in Laird’s state of the art Californian abode. While his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) and son Scotty (Griffin Gluck) warm to Laird’s eccentricities, Ned is increasingly repelled. His despair is heightened when Laird announces that he is planning to ask Stephanie to marry him.
It’s undoubtedly a formulaic premise, but this film succeeds due to it’s well developed characters and brilliant script which has plenty of heart and an abundance of comedic gold. Franco is on top form while Cranston’s performance recalls the bewildered comedy sensibilities that founded his career as Hal in hit television show Malcolm in the Middle. All of the cast have their moment to shine. Zoey Deutch is great. After her excellent turn in Rick Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some earlier this year, she once again provides a strong female voice in a film that could easily have been a boys only affair. Similarly Megan Mullally (Parks and Recreation) is hugely effective as Barb, with some of the film’s funniest moments involving her character. Keegan Michael Kay (Keanu) is also wonderful as Gustav, Laird’s personal assistant and muse. The film does have an elongated running time and could have benefited with a tighter edit, especially in the climatic scenes. As a consolation though a running reference to the music of rock band Kiss gets a fittingly satisfying pay off in the final act.
In a year which has been low on quality, besieged by inferior remakes and hackneyed sequels, here is an original and genuinely funny film that while crude and crass, also exudes smartness and wit. The recent trend in American comedy to allow actors free reign to improvise has proven to be a badly flawed approach. In Why Him? the script is the key element. It plays to the actor’s strengths with the snappy dialogue and visual slapstick hitting the funny bone with frequent effectiveness. Arguably the best comedy film of 2016.