Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Movie Review: Why Him? (2016)



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The glamourous life of a film critic and spending more time at the cinemas than I do awake in my own house means that I actually understand very little of regular human interaction. That said, knowing how awkward social situations can get to start with, I still understand why meeting the potential in-laws is as nerve-wracking as it is. In fact, again with my lack of experience in the matter in mind, it’s possibly the most awkward prospect of any courtship and the myriad of possibilities (or even just the fear of those possibilities) can lead to quite a bit of misery. As any good comedian knows, misery makes for good comedy, and sure enough that scenario has made for pretty decent rom-com material for many a decade now. Yeah, it may be old hat by now but it has given birth to some good chuckles in the past. Of course, I didn’t realize exactly how old hat it was until I sat down to watch this thing. Given how recent news has made this time of year depressing enough as is, let’s just get this out of the way as quickly as possible. This is Why Him?


The plot: Ned (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) and their son Scott (Griffin Gluck) have been invited to meet their daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch)’s boyfriend, internet billionaire Laird (James Franco). In record time, Ned already has a disdain for Laird, which makes Laird asking him for permission to ask Stephanie to marry him a bit awkward. Laird promises that, by Christmas Day, he will win Ned over, but Ned isn’t too hopeful.

The cast here is full of people who are either far better than this material or are right at home with this stuff. Cranston has been out of sitcom formation for a while now, but he honestly does pretty well at portraying the straight-man bewilderment that his character has been saddled with. Mullally is thankfully far past her high-pitched Will & Grace days of utter annoyance, but she is still quite abrasive and bland in equal measure. Deutch, when not making me think that the MILF remarks made are about her actual mother Lea Thompson, is very nice and quite likeable, bringing some ineffectual but still appreciated grounding to the events. Gluck is… okay, I guess. Shock humour really doesn’t seem to be his speed, but he isn’t terrible with it. And then there’s James Franco, whose foul-mouthed antics can get rather irritating but he has a definite undercurrent of social awkwardness that, if the film took time out to flesh it out, could have helped save the film. Hey, in something this crass, I’ll take ill-utilized potential over nothing.

Comedy is subjective, and no experience rams that point home more than going to see a comedy film in the cinema. Specifically, if you’re the only person who isn’t laughing. While I could just chalk this up to being not my kind of comedy, and I admittedly can be rather picky when it comes to what I laugh it in films, I can’t help but feel that the comedy here is just bad. And oddly enough, it all starts with the house where the majority of the film takes place. It’s basically one giant meme of a house, with contextless jokes plastered onto the walls like paintings of animals humping and interpretative art meant to symbolize sex. Then there’s the big set piece of the living room, which is literally a stuffed moose floating in a jar of its own urine. A corpse marinating in its own filth; fitting metaphor for the film itself, quite frankly. As for what goes on inside the house, it doesn’t even manage to do basic simile humour, instead going even more primitive and thinking that sex, nudity and literal toilet humour on its own is funny. It’s all so incredibly feeble and cringe-inducing in the worst way that I can’t even feel bad for not finding it as funny as the rest of the audience apparently did because I have no desire to ever find this shit amusing.

When it comes to father vs. boyfriend antics, one of the more recent trends is to make the father appear out-of-touch with modern conventions like technology. And by “recent”, I mean over a decade old because that is how tired this premise is. Director/co-writer Josh Hamburg’s most widely-known work is with the Meet The Parents trilogy, and even when the first film came out in the year 2000, this would’ve felt weak. Already starting on a bad footing, it doesn’t even manage to convey it in any way competently. It basically just amounts to making fun of how Ned doesn’t understand the Internet and lightly mocking him for it, combined with how much Laird lives and breathes technology. Where this gets interesting (and not in a good way) is how while the film is more than willing to make fun of Ned for being behind the times, the film itself seems to be in the same boat. And no, I don’t just mean that because of the tired nature of the joke itself; I mean that because Hamburg and co. don’t seem to know that much about techie culture themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I like how they chose to highlight a more contemporary and realistic brand of geek, but when it’s surrounded by this much nothing, it’s little more than an admirable failure.

So, the comedy sucks and the writing is embarrassingly antiquated; what about the characters? Well, it really says something when Stephanie is easily the most likeable character here and even she comes across badly. She, Ned and Laird are probably the best defined, but even then they just fall into genre character clich├ęs; everyone else are just conduits for the so-called comedy. When they’re together, they just imitate Christmas family dysfunction without any sense of relatability or even dark fun, to the point where the story being set around Christmas feel tacked on all on its own. Not only that, the film makes it a point to tease potentially interesting characters like the socially awkward Laird, but substitutes actual development for being just told what his background is and why we should feel sorry for him. Kind of difficult to do when the film seems determined to just parade around loathsomeness for the whole world to see. It doesn’t even end on that fulfilling a note either as, amidst a KISS cameo for… reasons, Ned and Laird do the usual rom-com wrap-up by concluding that they both fucked up. Unfortunately, it’s brought about through a combination of shaming, a hefty bail-out check and an admission that the entire impetus for the plot, that being Laird wanting Ned’s blessing to marry his daughter, was the cause of all the chaos and probably shouldn’t have been done in the first place. You know a film’s bad when it openly admits that its own premise is stupid.

All in all, the only thing I can be thankful for here is that I watched this a few days removed from the Christmas season because this is a big stocking full of coal-shaped excrement. It doesn’t even rank as actual coal, because that would imply that this bloody thing is useful. The actors are seriously trying to make this film work, and there are admittedly a couple of moments that got a laugh out of me, but this is just another instance of a film failing from its main concept downwards. Everything from the jokes to the characters to the plot itself is forced and incredibly dated, making for a fairly unpleasant viewing experience. It’s worse than The Do-Over, which may have had even more unlikeable characters but, surprisingly, their setup was actually far-and-away better than what we get here. However, since the majority of this film’s faults lie with the writing, as the direction is actually not too bad and the acting is as good as can be expected, it isn’t as bad as The Boy which was woeful in every aspect.

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