Never one to turn down free cinema tickets, I snapped a couple up for a preview screening of the new Bryan Cranston and James Franco comedy, Why Him? The trailers for the Christmas-inspired film amused me but not to the degree of convincing me to catch it in cinemas, so ShowFilmFirst's exclusive screening offer tempted me just enough to head out on a Wintry night to see what I would have otherwise been missing. Was it worth the petrol? Should I have waited until it was released on Netflix? Or should I have taken a hard pass altogether?
Ned Fleming (Cranston) and his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) visit their eldest daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) for the holidays, alongside their 15 year-old son Scott (Griffin Gluck). She shocks them all by introducing them to her surprise boyfriend - the famous, wealthy and often vulgar Laird (James Franco). Disapproving of her choice in boyfriend, her father takes particular offence - even more so when Laird reveals his plan to propose to Stephanie on Christmas day. With Ned struggling to accept Laird's brash personality as the rest of the family begin to warm to him, it is bound to end in disaster for one - or both - of them. Directed by comedy-staple John Hamburg, does the film end this year's comedy drought?
Possibly more so than any other genre, a solid ensemble cast (as well as the script, of course) is the absolute key to unlocking a decent comedy and unfortunately, the very central piece lets the whole film down: Bryan Cranston is not a leading comic and it very obviously shows. As one of this year's Best Actor nominees, Cranston fails to come across naturally in this lead role, with every joke and riff feeling more like a stiff and laboured effort than an organic energy, as the rest of his cast demonstrate, who are all more typically associated with the genre - and it really rather shows. His lead co-star, Franco, does a far more convincing job and manages to translate what should be an irritating and obnoxious character into a far more likeable and general funnier character than expected. Megan Mullally is also worth a mention; the Parks and Recreation star has a rather small role but manages to make quite the impression as Barb, even when the script doesn't quite serve her well enough, including a prolonged scene in which she is determined to have sex with her husband - this same plot was employed with absolutely hilarious results in Parks and Rec (in which she played the outrageous Tammy Two) but it falls completely flat here, through no fault of her own. It's another example of a committed performance ploughing against all the odds. Talking of ploughing, the absolute star of this film is the youngest cast member - Griffin Gluck is continually hilarious and awarded the script's biggest laughs, but it is his conviction and joyous performance that secures these laughs, making him the most memorable element of the film, even with the lowest-billing of the main five stars.
Sporadic attempts at humour can be found throughout - it just cannot be maintained, with some scenes dragging on far too long and others being totally devoid of humour, even with the cast trying their damn hardest. Zoey Deutch is given a total disservice, lodging as the 'woman in the middle' rather than a character in her own right; despite the script's proclamation that 'it's the woman's choice!', it feels very half-hearted coming after a solid 100 minutes of anything but that. Basically, the script has the right intentions but a totally mishandled execution. I willed the laughs to stick harder than they did, but more often than not, they missed the mark, hindered by a little bit of conventionality. Everything seems blatantly foreshadowed and a little bit predictable. It's the characters and the cast that provide most of the laughs but you can still manage to find a little bit of charm in the goofy nature and playful tone of the film. Still, it's remarkable that this is still one of the more watchable comedies of the year (expect The Boss - The Boss was hilarious and I hate everyone else for saying otherwise).
Even after all that, Why Him? hints at some interesting generational and class differences that, if with a firmer grip and direction, could be a whole lot more successful. It becomes increasingly frustrating with its refusal to give its committed cast and relatively interesting characters more to work with. It clocks a few laughs that just about tide you over, most of which are from Gluck, Franco and Mullally and their general riffing, opposed to when they are sticking by the weak script. Only in a comedy film could an Oscar-winning actor be the weakest link in the chain and, in all honesty, I am just as surprised as you that his performance is the most unconvincing one here. When will a comedy film trust its fruitful cast to reap hilarious result? Even the other Christmas-themed film of the year, Office Christmas Party (which I liked more than most), struggled with this exact concept, as well as the aforementioned Melissa McCarthy vehicle, which didn't trust arguably the biggest comedy star to riff of her own accord. Still, if you like the cast and want a chuckle, you could always check this out in cinemas - just not before the superior cineplex offerings of the moment..
Summary: Why Him? squanders a talented cast with a weak script and a lead whose comedic ability, unfortunately, fails to come across as natural.
Highlight: 'Heck, yeah, I cuss!' 'You do. What's your favourite cuss word?' 'Titties'.