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The movie premise of a guy going to meet his girlfriend's parents is one of those subtle sub genres of film that have grown in popularity through the years, perhaps seeing a rejuvenation of sorts in the Meet the Parents franchise (ugh) of the last few years. So when one of the writers of that film decides to write a similar film, with a slight wrinkle thrown in, you've just got to watch, right?
Such is the case in Why Him?, co-written by John Hamburg of Parents fame and Ian Hefler (The Oranges), from a story by Jonah Hill, and Hamburg directing. Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston, The Infiltrator) and his wife Barb (Megan Mullally, Will & Grace) operate an print advertising company. Their daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch, Dirty Grandpa) goes to college but has fallen in love with Laird Mayhew (James Franco, True Story), a silicon valley entrepreneur, and wants to introduce him to Mom & Dad over the Christmas Holiday. And such, the merry hijinks begin.
So naturally the bigger conflict given the name of the movie is how much Ned has to try and get accustomed to Laird, and Laird doesn't make it easy despite his best intentions; he has a lot of free range animals on the compound, he brings in a young chef from one of the cooking competition shows of the moment; he gets a tattoo with the family's faces (from a Christmas card) on his back. There are still some things that Ned has to get used to and those are the things that are expected to deliver the laughs. Laird also has an assistant for the house named Gustav, played to presumed ad lib greatness by Keegan Michael Key (Keanu). Key's laughs, combined with Franco playing kinda sorta himself is what you're supposed to laugh at, and there is a laugh or two they generate.
However, You're also supposed to laugh at Cranston's goofy moments, the signature one would apparently be him using a bathroom in Laird's house, a house where Laird has eliminated paper use (you know, for the environment). Strangely enough the old white guy who was the Dad in Malcolm in the Middle doesn't come off as funny as he has back in the day, he looks out of his element in this stuff, despite his place in the film as the straight man. That's the downside, and the bulk of the expectations of Cranston in the role.
Cranston does manage to capture an internal conflict of evolving within Ned that is compelling to see. He recognizes Laird as weird and lets the viewer realize this, but more on a demographic level of how crazy he is, as if Cranston lets us in on Franco's eccentricities being part of it, and it strangely works on that level. He struggles being a 21st century Dad on a larger and smaller level (in this case with Ned's younger son), and it's worth the travel he takes, and he and Mullally play well off one another as the Mom and Dad. In another movie, these two would be ideal.
Why Him? also wants to be Meet the Parents with an entirely too long 111-minute runtime that shows in large stretches in the second and third acts, with a third act climax that goes on far longer than it needed to. There is the eventual, predictable warming of the father and the potential son-in-law, but it gets drawn out to the point when you wonder if the finish line is something that the story had in place before the shooting started.
There are moments where Why Him? channels popular ‘Dad meets daughter's boyfriend' films of the past, but oddly enough it's the pseudo Father of the Bride moments that are more polished and engaging than the stuff you're supposed to react to. Sadly those moments are few and far between and the film disappoints as a result.
The AVC encode befitting this 1.85:1 high-definition transfer is excellent and the film gets many moments to shine. The film spends most of its time between the warm oranges, yellows and greens of California and a dusting of the whites and greys of the Michigan winter and all look excellent. Laird's yards are well-detailed and blades of grass are readily apparent, just as sweat or water buildup on Franco or Cranston in a given moment, to say nothing of Cranston's many facial crags and wrinkles. There are no issues with artifacts or haloing that I noticed, and the viewing experience is quite good.
DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless surround for a comedy? OK, but then you learn as you go along that it uses a lot of this space, be it bodies hitting the ground, or club music that pulsates through the theater during a Christmas party, or a late third act scene where Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley sing. Conversations are consistent in sound, directional effects and channel panning are both present and effective, and considering what the source material is, the soundtrack is up to the video merits as well.
The commentary from Hamburg, Hefler and Kerr is fine, albeit a bit dry and not all that engaging. A gag reel follows (9:58) that's more pre-action mugging with a blooper every 30-45 seconds, and "47 Minutes on the Can" (6:39) explores the scene between Cranston and Key. "Why Gustav?" (4:23) examines some of Key's better moments, "Barb Fleming: America's Mom" (5:44) is a similar piece for Mullally, "Lou the Entertainer" (4:27) covers Cedric the Entertainer's role in this, and "Richard Blais: Twisted Chef" (1:46) focuses on the gastronomics in the film. 9 deleted and extended scenes (31:19) including more KISS, and a secret Santa scene that's not bad. The gallery and trailer round things out with the digital and standard definition copies of the film.
There are moments where Why Him? has moments of convincing authentic emotion that I stuck around more for, a lot more than say, the goofy comedy between its two stars. Technically, the film looks and sounds excellent and the extras are decent but a little bit light. Franco and Cranston get points for trying, but it's not enough for an underachieving story with larger flaws than the premise that so many have tried before them.