Why Him? Movie Review
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Finding Why Him? under your tree is like opening a VHS clamshell box of a Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) and finding a gold tennis bracelet (true story). You were sort of expecting something cool, and but what you find is just so cool you want to marry the person who gave it to you.
Maaaybe you don’t want to marry director John Hamburg, but you might agree to a few drinks to see where the night takes you.
Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston, Trumbo (2015)) and his family have been invited by their daughter’s boyfriend to meet and spend Christmas together. It’s a tough time for Ned as his business is floundering, but he’d like to spend the holidays with his daughter and his new beau. Stephanie (Zoey Deutch, Ringer (2011)) knows this will be a difficult time for her family as they’re upper middle-class Grand Rapids folk, and her boyfriend, Laird (James Franco, Hulu’s 11.22.63) isn’t. He’s a Silicon Valley app billionaire with an unorthodox lifestyle. He lacks basic etiquette, grounding and social graces, but has a huge heart, and that’s the man Stephanie wants her family to meet. The heart guy, not the shirtless guy who doesn’t own a comb. Stephanie knows her family would have a hard time accepting him unfiltered, just based on celebrity gossip. If there’s one thing women everywhere know about, it’s the fear that the one person you love is rejected by everyone else you love.
Greasing the wheels of acceptance is Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key, Don’t Think Twice (2016)), Laird’s Cato, his Alfred Pennyworth, his Ianto Jones. Gustav is the brains behind the idea man, making sure everything works as smoothly as Laird imagines, including his social life. Without Gustav, Laird would likely be lonely and riddled with STDs – it really is that tragic.
This is a movie about expectations. What Ned and Barb (Megan Mullally, Adult Swim’s Childrens Hospital) expect from their Stanford-attending daughter, what Stephanie expects from Laird and his approach to her parents, and what Laird expects from everyone. Laird’s expectations never align with reality and his stunned confusion when things backfire is both comical and heartbreaking. There a b-line story about Ned and his print shop business that you know will resolve in exactly the way it’s supposed to, but Laird can’t get out of his own way, so getting there is the fun part. The level of misunderstanding between Palo Alto and Grand Rapids becomes so monumental, even if you know how it’s going to end, you can’t fathom how the movie will get there.
At the heart of this we have a story about a man who struggles with letting his little girl grow up, believing her incapable of making such a huge decision involving relationships all by herself. You can be offended by that, but it’s basically every dad that every existed. Sharing space with that same heart is Laird, who wants nothing more in the world than to provide for Stephanie, even carving out a place for her in one of his companies. Except she’s attending Stanford and really doesn’t need his employment charity. We see the two generations of businessmen united and separated by a gulf of their own machismo and neither of them have any idea how to deal with educated women. They neither trust her to make her own decisions nor can they let go of their own roles as protector. They’ve both put their individual needs before the the one they’re supposed to be protecting, and for a comedy confronting that, it’s almost deep.
Look – you’re here to watch Franco be adorably vulgar, and that’s perfectly alright. I like seeing a movie where the open character really is an open nice guy with so little in the way of second thoughts, subterfuge is beyond him. He’s not a brilliant dumb guy, he just a brilliant uncultured guy who’s been raised by the Internet. Depending on how much tech you were raised with will depend on which character you understand more. Really though, your heart should be with Gustav, just because.
Let go and let Gustav. That’s what I say.
Why Him? is Rated R for lots and lot of language, sexual situations that will make people very uncomfortable, mild drug and alcohol use, and urine.