Abiding stringently by the same model that spawned the Meet the Parents franchise, instead John Hamburg’s Why Him? comes at the ‘father versus daughter’s new partner’ narrative from the other perspective, as we peer into the life of Ned Fleming, who has a few reservations about his potential son-in-law. While there are undoubtedly laughs to be had, here’s a comedy suffocated by its very own sense of unoriginality.
Ned (Bryan Cranston) is the owner of his own printing business, and is persuaded to head off with his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) and son Scotty (Griffin Gluck) to spend Christmas away from home, visiting his daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) and her new, eccentric boyfriend Laird Mayhew (James Franco). When they arrive at the latter’s abode, where they’re staying for their vacation, they learn he’s a millionaire app developer, and are surprised at his forward, overbearing manner, even going to the extent of having their family Christmas card tattooed on his back. But that’s just the start of it, as Ned attempts to come to terms with the new man in his life, vying to understand why his daughter would fall for someone so crass and unconventional.
Behind the cheap, hackneyed jokes is actually an interesting angle of old versus new, as a traditionalist squares up against a hipster, epitomised in their conflicting jobs – with one specialising in paper, and the other technology. We look at the differences between the two, as Ned struggles to comprehend the new generation, and most of the jokes that land derive from this very notion. There’s also the theme of the father/daughter bond, and how Ned is struggling to let go, shadowing a sentiment so many will feel as they come to terms with the fact there’s another man to contend with, somebody else their offspring will look to now in times of distress, a new person to have affection for and to rely on, and it’s not always easy to accept.
But such ideas are lost somewhere in the midst of the film’s irreverent approach, saved only by Cranston, who makes for an absorbing protagonist, as he so often does. While question marks remain as to why the actor decided to sign up to this project (Why Him?) – much like we did with De Niro as he went head to head with Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents, it’s Cranston’s very involvement which ensures here’s a film that (just) remains watchable.