If you’ve ever been curious as to what would happen if Meet the Parents collided with a ton of expletives, cheap gags, and a dose of lazy, obvious humor, then John Hamburg’s Why Him? is the film for you.
When Ned and Barb (Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally), parents to bright young Stanford student Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), depart from Michigan to spend Christmas with their daughter in sunny California, they are horrified to discover that she’s begun dating Laird (James Franco)—an eccentric, foulmouthed, frequently naked tech billionaire with no filter or social graces. His Google-meets-Tony Stark mansion is “paperless,” while Stephanie’s dad owns a struggling, deeply indebted paper company. Naturally, Laird’s high-tech, overly sexualized, ostentatious lifestyle clashes with Ned’s middle-class, Midwestern values, and unoriginal (and at times groan-worthy) mayhem ensues as Hamburg attempts to rehash the generational and patriarchal standoff between a girl’s boyfriend and her father.
Unfortunately, this tired conflict is the entire film. Stephanie functions as little more than a vacuous plot device as Ned and Laird attempt to make decisions for her, removing every ounce of agency from her already one-dimensional character. Cranston and Franco do their best to make the inorganic dialogue seem natural, but the script (by Ian Helfer and Hamburg) is so lacking in innovation that it constantly substitutes profanity for actual jokes, and shows little faith in the target audience’s comprehension skills.
The movie’s saving grace is Laird’s well-intentioned butler Gustav (played by the wildly hilarious Keegan-Michael Key), who provides quite a few laugh-out-loud moments to break up the strained script. Megan Mullally, though tragically underutilized, has a handful of funny bits as well.
After nearly two bumbling hours, the film inexplicably attempts to end on a note of girl power, which only comes off as trite and inauthentic. Why? Because Why Him? believes itself to be self-aware, when it’s really alarmingly oblivious.