Why Him?

09/01/17

Given that this film is a sort of Christmas movie, we came to it late. In fact we only went to see it because A: It was one of the only three films in the cinema we hadn’t yet seen, and B: It wasn’t Ballerina or Assassin’s Creed. We had fairly low expectations for it and were pleasantly surprised to find that we actually rather enjoyed it.

The ‘him’ in question is Laird Mayhew (James Franco), a potty-mouthed but fabulously rich man-child, the impresario behind a line of incredibly successful computer games featuring apes with bazookas. The person asking the titular question is Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston), who along with his wife, Barb (Megan Mulally) runs a struggling print-on-paper publishing company, the kind of set up that people like Laird are putting out of business on a daily basis. The reason the question is being asked is that Ned’s beloved daughter, Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) is now going out with Laird, and Ned’s parents have just been introduced to him in the worst way possible – midway through a Skype call during Ned’s fifty-fifth birthday party, they are forced to watch online as he prepares to get down and dirty with their daughter. Awkward!

When the Fleming family is invited out to sunny California to spend the Christmas holidays with the young couple, Ned is far from enthusiastic; and when he sees the palatial designer house in which Laird (and his sizeable entourage) dwell, his hackles rise and it’s clear that this is going to be a bumpy ride.

Now, I’ve never subscribed to the theory that the fathers of daughters have to automatically hate their choice of partner, though this inappropriate jealousy is a familiar if overused trope. But it has to be said that Cranston and Franco certainly milk the idea for some big laughs here – and Stephanie makes clear that she wants no part in their macho posturing. Most of the hilarity comes from Ned’s long-suffering expressions as he is subjected to one indignity after another. His humiliating tussle with a ‘paperless toilet’ is particularly funny and there’s a nicely set up gag about the rock band, Kiss that also pays dividends. I also enjoyed Keegan Michael-Key’s turn as Laird’s ‘mentor’ Gustav and the running joke where he and Laird attack each other on a daily basis, an evident tribute to Clouseau and Cato from the Pink Panther films.

Okay, so this isn’t going to challenge It’s A Beautiful Life as everybody’s favourite Christmas flick, but it’s a decently made bit of fluff that (unless you’re very hard to please) will  make you laugh out loud at regular intervals. And maybe, in these troubled times, that’s as much as you can reasonably ask.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

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