For a movie that is essentially a reverse Meet the Parents, it is remarkable how the very writer of Meet the Parents doesn’t seem to understand how Meet the Parents works. Why Him? is also a rip-off of Father of the Bride, an archetypal story to be fair, but mangles any comedy inherent in that premise anyway.
Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) is taking his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) and son Scotty (Griffin Gluck) to visit his daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) at Stanford. Stephanie springs it on her family that she’s seeing tech millionaire Laird Mayhew (James Franco), and now we know everyone’s name.
Laird swears a lot and keeps calling both Stephanie and Barb hot, never learning that it’s inappropriate, let alone smart enough to read the room. It seems unbelievable to me that in 2016 the parents of a teenager and college junior would be so old fashioned to forbid Scotty from seeing R-rated movies or using bad words. The relationship with a 30something and graphic PDAs, yes. That shows possible sociopathic levels of unawareness on Laird’s part, but get over the prudish language.
Since the script doesn’t understand what could possibly cause humorous misunderstandings or genuine relationship conflict, the focus of Why Him? is Laird’s high tech house and all the crazy gadgets Ned doesn’t understand. This includes extended scenes with Laird’s own version of Alexa voiced by Kaley Cuoco, a toilet that sprays so you don’t have to wipe, and other contrived set pieces.
This is indicative of what is wrong with so many comedies today. These jokes are not about the premise of the movie. They are just a series of set pieces that some writers brainstormed, and instead of paring them down to serve the plot, they just go from one scene to the next. That’s why movies like Why Him? are pushing two hours. There’s just so much to get through.
These scenes aren’t jokes. They’re distractions. They hope they can distract you long enough to forget that you haven’t seen anything happen yet. Have Barb get high so Mullally can climb all over Cranston and nothing comes of it. Have a big party so more celebrity cameos can drop in and more people can talk about different sex acts. At one point KISS shows up, and then they stay long after the joke while the characters fanboy over them but it feels uncomfortable for KISS. Like, I don’t believe Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley would linger for real people to gush over, let alone fictional ones.
Whether you’re doing Meet the Parents or Father of the Bride, the conflict should reach a point where the father ultimately has to save the relationship he was against to begin with. Why Him? never gets there because there’s no real conflict between Ned and Laird. Ned’s not overprotective or any quality that Laird has to combat. He wouldn’t want his daughter dropping out of freaking Stanford, or getting married at 22 (she took a year off to do charity work so the math at least works out) so the only thing Ned really has to do is get through the weekend, and all that’s left for the audience is to just get through the movie.
Why Him? even botches a scene where Ned and Laird begin to bond. Laird proposes an act of vandalism against a rival company, and Ned seems to come to life doing it. Except we never see the act. We only see them getting ready, and then cuts away to reaping the rewards. They don’t get into trouble together. The rival company is never mentioned again. Every scene is disconnected from everything else. There are no stakes, just more stunts.
Keegan-Michael Key plays Laird’s butler Gustav, giving him a German accent because Gustav is not a character either. He’s not even a character Key would have done in that movie where he gets a job on fake SNL full of lame recurring characters. He’s just a bit to perform more distracting bits.
The best joke in the movie is that Laird got an elaborate back tattoo in honor of the Fleming family visit. At the very least, the reveal of the tattoo is built up as if someone knew enough not to film Franco from behind until it was time. It’s all downhill from there.
In the days since screening Why Him? I found myself describing the events of the movie to people and breaking down in laughing fits because I can’t believe I’m actually describing scenes from a real movie that is playing in theaters (you try describing the self-wiping toilet scene with a straight face). Perhaps that’s the kind of comedy John Hamburg was going for. It’s not funny when you watch it. It’s funny when you try to repeat it to someone. That’s actually some next level meta comedy, but it seems more like a James Franco art project than a filmmaker’s intentions.