Why Him opens with a Facetime call between James Franco‘s Laird and Zoey Deutch‘s Stephanie. Laird is a sweary, belligerent, annoyingly likeable app guru – a garishly tattoed, bro’d out Zuckerberg – and Stephanie is the bright student he has bowled over. The call covers such topics as Netflix and Chill, references to Making a Murderer and Peaky Blinders all within the space of about a minute – moments after that Cranston’s Ned Fleming has trouble simply shutting a laptop down. If nothing else, it lets you, yes, you, mr/ms millenial – know that this is a safe space, that laughs are encouraged, if not compulsory, and that the perceived tech-illiteracy of the older generation will be mined for all its worth.
Stephanie is the eldest daughter of a loving, traditional nuclear family – Ned is the CEO of a printing company (more on that later) and holds a special bond with both of his children, especially Stephanie. She has been at university and hasn’t, yet, told her family about ‘Him‘ yet. If you’ve seen the promo art for this film or better yet, a trailer, you shouldn’t expect many surprises – the film chugs along on the conflict / bond between Cranston’s luddite dad and Franco’s cursing, bumbling tech-millionaire, who represent the technological changing of the guard that we see every day. There’s something to be said in Ned’s resistance to change that underpins his mistrust of technology, but the tired tropes used to reinforce this are, well, tired tropes.
The film largely excels on the natural charisma of Franco, one of few actors who could make over-swearing an endearing character trait. Cranston is good in this film and so are the respective actors that play Ned’s wife and son – but with Cranston (an actor responsible for one of the great performances of the past 30 years), you get the sense that whenever he isn’t in something top calibre it is a waste, which is not exactly a slight to Why Him, more to the actor himself.
Why Him, in fact, becomes excellent in ways – mainly in the sense that, while the comedy is generally manufactured, the feeling and intent behind the characters isn’t – there is genuine warmth here, genuinely touching dialogue and honest moments usually unseen in comedies of this… disposition. It nails awkward social situations without overbearing – sentences tail off and silence pierces. Why Him becomes something more than standard comedy fare simply because that’s what it tries to do – at the close of it all you may end up caring about the characters more than laughing at them, which might be terrible – or it might be a very great thing indeed.
Dir: John Hamburg
Scr: John Hamburg, Ian Helfer
Cast: James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Griffin Gluck, Keegan-Michael Key
Prd: Stuart Cornfeld, Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, Ben Stiller
DOP: Kris Kachikis
Editing: William Kerr
Music: Theodore Shapiro
Country: United States
Running time: 111 minutes