Before he was Walter White, the intimidating modern-Macbeth, Bryan Cranston was best known for goofing around as the bumbling father on early 2000’s sitcom Malcom in the Middle. The new film Why Him? brings Cranston back to his comedy roots as the dopey dad in a family he fears is drifting apart.
The film focuses on Cranston’s character’s family, with scene-stealing performances from Megan Mullally as his equally eccentric wife and Grifin Gluck as their teenage son. They’ve arrived in California to spend Christmas with daughter Stephanie, a bright college student with an even brighter future. Little do they know, Stephanie has planned for them all to stay together at the mansion of her tech-billionaire boyfriend none of them knew she had: the vulgar, filterless, boundary-pushing, tattoo-covered Liard Meyhew (James Franco, who is basically playing himself). When Franco asks Cranston for his permission to propose to his daughter, the war begins. The two men make a deal to fight this out over the course of the holiday, with Franco’s character trying to make the family love him, and Cranston trying to break the young couple up and “save his daughter.” Hilarity (often) ensues.
Clearly this is a rather paint-by-numbers comedic set-up for a movie to have. Fortunately, the cast is 100% game and gives everything they have to the tired premise, elevating the movie to a pretty entertaining place, all things considered. There certainly are laughs to be had in Why Him? and a great many people in the audience I saw it with were loving every second. For me, the shock-humor didn’t always land, and the improvised exchanges between characters (particularly Keegan-Michael Key’s silly German housekeeper Gustav) were entertaining, certainly, but not necessarily funny. Which is probably the best way to describe Why Him? : Entertaining, but not really funny. It’s not a bad comedy in the sense that Adam Sadler makes bad comedies; it’s honestly closer to the way people enjoy old sitcoms. You may not be laughing, but you’re having a good time.
What does stand out to me, though, is the movie’s strong Christmas atmosphere. Which is nice. Holiday movies are a fun part of the season. This year only had Bad Santa 2 and Office Christmas Party in terms of holiday-themed releases, and both of those were subversive hard-R comedies pulling humor from being unconventional. It’s true that Why Him? is also a hard-R raunch-fest, but at its core it’s about family and holiday stress: things audiences can actually latch onto this time of year. When all the sex and swears are cut out of the 90-minute version that’ll run on TBS every December, this will still be a decent thing to watch.
Overall, Why Him? could have been a lot worse. There’s definitely a great deal of talent that went into it. Bryan Cranston makes a fantastic straight-man, James Franco’s having fun, and Megan Mullally manages to turn the usual “Mom” role in a romantic comedy into something much more memorable. So, it’s fine. Nothing really special, but if you’re looking for some easy holiday entertainment, you could definitely do worse than Why Him?