There’s no point in reviewing Why Him?. Have you seen the trailer? Congratulations. You’ve pretty much seen the movie, and already know whether its style of comedy is right for you.

Have you seen the red-band trailer? Congratulations. Now, you’ve really see the movie.

BTW: the gag with Cranston throwing a rock at a drone and accidentally hitting Casey Wilson instead is not in the movie.

But as of this writing, we’re smack dab in the heart of Christmas break. In recent years, this has been a time for Hollywood to release middle-of-the-road comedies which families can flock to and try not to think too hard about. Daddy’s Home a year ago, Why Him? this year. Some people love these kinds of movies. One heavy-set older man, for example, in front of me at Why Him? practically fell out of his seat while laughing at the film’s dead elk testicles gag. However, if Why Him? isn’t really for you, but you end up at a screening anyway here are 7 things to ponder to keep yourself amused:

1. Try to figure out which of the many potential competing projects required James Franco to have a porn stash

james-franco-the-deuce

Why Him? opens with a cell phone-recorded video chat between Zoey Deutch and Franco, the former in her dorm room finishing up a term paper and the latter in some nondescript room where he complains about his blue balls turning black due to going 3 days without sex. It’s about them planning to hook-up later that evening, which pays off a couple of minutes later when Franco arrives and instantly disrobes in Deutch’s room, unaware she’s in the process of Skyping into her father’s birthday party in Michigan and wishing him well.

It’s the film’s big comedic introduction, starting things between parents and daughter’s boyfriend in the worst way possible. However, during this opening video, Franco sports a porn stash, one which is actually called out by Deutch as being unattractive and thus never re-appears the rest of the movie.

Best guess as to what actually happened here is this video chat opening was added in through reshoots at which point Franco had grown the mustache for a different role. Oddly, though, he could have done this for any number of different projects. Have fun trying to guess which one.

As Esquire broke down this past September in an article entitled “Just how many porn-related things is James Franco working on”:

The answer is four—James Franco is involved in four porn-related projects, at least by my count. There’s The Deuce, an upcoming HBO show about the ’70s porn scene in NYC; Kink, an indie documentary about BDSM site Kink.com; his band Daddy’s music video, which is essentially pornographic.

2. Notice how the film screeches to a halt when Cranston talks about The Pink Panther and think back to The Nerdwriter‘s video essay about imitation killing America’s middling comedies

why-him-keegan-michael-key

Why Him? pulls a The Pink Panther with a recurring bit featuring Keegan-Michael Key (playing a manservant) constantly attacking James Franco to test his defenses. In fact, Why Him? attempts to make the Pink Panther connection part of the joke. An exasperated Cranston keeps struggling to explain how this is just like that thing that was in that other movie to Michael Key and Franco, neither of whom appear to have even heard of Pink Panther. It drags on too long and elicited zero laughs at my screening.

It also perfectly plays into The Nerdwriter’s recent video essay “The Epidemic Of Passable Movies” which argued, in part, “When passable movies observe human experience it’s not through the lens of real life but through the lens of other movies.”

3. Listen to who laughs at the bukkake joke and who doesn’t and picture the drive home ahead of them

woman-not-laughing-movie-theater

While attempting to bond with his presumptive future father-in-law Cranston, Franco uses the word “bukkake” in passing in conversation. He’s talking about some failed titles for his next big app, but when Cranston asks what “bukkake” means Franco stammers before broadly explaining, “It means when you’ve got a lot in the air, a lot of things coming at you at once.”

Of course, that’s not what “bukkake” means, and the film later reveals as much, humiliating Cranston when he uses “bukkake” in a social setting only to be quickly told the word’s true meaning. It’s an Asian porn thing. Probably best not to Google it.

The funniest thing about this is not the gap in knowledge between the characters on screen but instead the obvious gap in knowledge among audience members. At my nearly sold-out showing last night, a handful of older guys laughed instantly at the utterance of the word “bukkake” and kept it going once they heard Franco’s misleading definition. As far as I could tell, not a single woman was laughing with them. That might make for an unfair generalization. However, it amused me to picture these men as being there with girlfriends or wives and having to answer, “So, how did you know what ‘bukkake’ meant?” on the drive home.

4. Imagine an alternative telling of the story where Zoey Deutch is the villain, aka, the Teri-Polo-in-Meet-the-Parents Problem

zoey-deutchWhy Him? is  Meet the Parents in reverse, flipping the script from Ben Stiller (a Why Him? executive producer, btw) meeting his quirky future in-laws for the first time to Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally meeting their future son-in-law for the first time. Both films largely revolve around the inevitably tense relationship between the daughter’s father and her boyfriend, and the demands of the ever-escalating plot dictate the daughter be kind of a terrible person. Not terrible in a she-regularly-punches-puppies-and-kicks-dirt-on-homeless-people kind of way; more she consistently fails to prepare her loved ones for the insanity awaiting them and then is far too impatient with their flustered reactions.

For example, these are some of the things she fails to prepare her family for:

  • They’re not staying at a hotel, one which her father booked and proudly negotiated down to a reasonable rate, during their visit but instead with her boyfriend.
  • Her boyfriend is a tech mogul millionaire with daddy issues and a chronic inability to censor himself.
  • He has a manservant/financial manager who consistently attacks him.
  • His mansion is completely paperless, meaning it has experimental Japanese toilets with no toilet paper.
  • The mansion is run by a disembodied AI voice which sounds like Kaley Cuoco.
  • The food in the mansion is usually served by celebrity chefs and is often highly experimental (and rarely solid).
  • She’s been dating her boyfriend far longer than she let on.
  • Also, the relationship is already far more serious than she let one. They more or less live together.
  • Her boyfriend regularly throws lavish parties overflowing with experimental drugs and attended by other tech moguls whose internet start-ups are directly responsible for the death of many manufacturing jobs which are central to Cranston’s business.
  • [MAJOR SPOILER] She’s dropping out of Stanford to be Melinda to Franco’s Bill Gates, running a non-profit charity organization focused on women’s health around the world

You can forgive Cranston for needing a minute to adjust. To be fair, Why Him?’s script features multiple built-in explanations and rationalizations (e.g., she didn’t know how to properly prepare them for how weird Franco is, she didn’t want them Googling him beforehand and jumping to conclusions). Still, a heads up would have been nice, but then there’d be no movie.

5. Allow your hatred of Kaley Cuoco to grow

kaley-cuoco-why-him

Hate’s too strong. It’s more envy, really. She’s 31, she’s worth $45 million, and it’s almost all come from playing a hot airhead prone to funny facial expressions on Big Bang Theory. She’s simply living the dream of every actor of the 80s and 90s – land a long-running sitcom which you can practically sleepwalk your way through, and you’re set up for the rest of your life. Big Bang Theory happens to be the last of those old giants, a relic of a bygone era in TV history. Cuoco’s also done a movie here or there (e.g., Hop, Wedding Ringer), but much like Jennifer Aniston during the Friends years Cuoco’s movies see her mostly playing a slightly different version of Penny.

As such, maybe Why Him? gives Cuoco the role she’s best suited for: herself.

Technically, Cuoco simply voices the AI interface named Justine which runs Franco’s house, as some kind of riff on Her except instead of Scarlet Johansson this AI sounds like Cuoco. It’s one of the film’s many jokes about Franco’s Scrooge McDuck-style wealth, but it also feels annoyingly like a Cuoco ego stroke, particularly when Justine chafes at Cranston’s lack of respect for Cuoco’s status as a big star. In response, she humble brags “Only make a million an episode, most watched comedy on TV. No big deal.” Ugh.

Then try to figure out if Cuoco’s salary for this little Why Him? voice acting gig was six or seven figures long and allow your envy to grow.

6. Ponder what the film says to Middle America

Generational, cultural and family conflicts abound in Why Him?, where part of Cranston’s inability to accept Franco as a suitable suitor for his daughter is due to the culture clash between the two. Cranston plays a hard-working Michigan man in charge of a paper supply company being made obsolete by technology, and Franco plays a thirtysomething California computer whiz who hit big with one app and now lives a life of almost grotesque wealth and excess.

Both feel like rough approximations by Hollywood screenwriters of what they assume life is like in Michigan (e.g., cold, everyone always fearing for their jobs, “Go Lions!”) compared to a more cartoon-like version of California. The pie-in-the-sky conclusion they reach attempts to broadly marry the financial resources of Silicon Valley with the manpower of the Midwest.

Major spoiler: Franco’s money saves the day, and the paper company is converted into a specialized toilet manufacturer (rather than simply contracting with the actual Japanese manufacturer of the original toilet) which also works with Deutch’s new non-profit initiative for global health … somehow.

I wonder what that might say to a Donald Trump voter. Good that they kept the manufacturing jobs in state and in country, but bad that it suggests salvation lies within the deep pocketbooks of well-invested Silicon Valley types?

7. Keep a running tally of all the product placement, and decide which one’s the most blatant about it

netflix_61045

Here’s a start on some of the product placement: Apple, Netflix, Goodwill, Subway. Pretty much every one of Deutch’s outfits.

Most blatant, though, goes to Netflix. Maybe this really was their own joke and Netflix had nothing to do with it, but the opening minutes of the film are so stuffed with Franco raving about Netflix Original shows (“Stranger Things! Kimmy Schmidt!”) he might “watch” while Netflix and Chilling with his girlfriend that it makes you want to simply walk out and go home to watch one of those shows instead.

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

10 Comments

  1. Love point 4. Reminds me of the time I watched the Daniel Radcliffe romantic comedy What If (or The F Word in some countries). It’s hard not to watch it and think there’s another story to be told from Rafe Spall’s POV where Radcliffe actually plays the villain!

    Reply

    1. Totally get that about Rafe Spall in What If (the title it was released under here in the US). To be honest, I think my argument about the alternate point of view could broadly apply to all sorts of comedies, particularly rom-coms. For example, I’d love to see My Best Friend’s Wedding from Cameraon Diaz’s POV. That bitch Julia Roberts keeps trying to steal her man, and even after she was so nice to her.

      Reply

  2. Loved your review. One thing that audience do not know in advance is that the film script is peppered with F-bombs and worse, with a running gag referring to a category of pornography especially degrading to women. We all expect colourful language these days, but it’s a substitute vocabulary that loses impact quickly. Cheap gags are more affordable than a quality script and even a strong cast cannot pull this film up from the depths it chose.

    Reply

  3. Trump voters dont try to look this ridiculously deep into a simple light hearted movie. You people take yourselves way too seriuosly. If you think anyone outside your self righteous Hollywood circle has a minute of time to think this deeply about a silly little movie you all have WAY too much time on your hands. Get a life!

    Reply

    1. So, did you like the movie, though?

      Reply

  4. You basically could have said I don’t like slapstick and saved our time reading this. Your review was as ridiculous as the movie…however the movie was intended to be, your review was petty and judgemental of anyone who doesn’t think in your narrow minded way fueled by jealousy

    Reply

    1. So, did you like the movie?

      Reply

      1. Yes. With the exception of a mother who watched it with her son without having foreknowledge of it, everyone else I know loved it. When you can make references in conversation and without mentioning the source, people pick up on it I’d say it is well received and memorable.

        I feel the pink panther reference gave a nod to a cult classic in the same niche. Yet works with the theme of lost generational knowledge, like all the common sayings he finds so profound throughout the movie.

        The ai was, whether intentional or not, was less of a play on “her” and more of how people amuse themselves with alexa and siri… but as over the top as it’s developer.

        Porn referenced humor is so mainstream that it also goes with the generation gap theme.

        The entrepreneurial mind of a trump voter has no conflict with any business element presented. Everything people had was from their ability to innovate and give consumers what they want. The paper business wasn’t saved, the workers found jobs in a new industry. That’s not charity or corporate welfare, but market evolution. So your comment made no sense to this trump voter

      2. I’m glad you liked it. I really am. Ever since Why Him? ended up on HBO, this article has seen a huge uptick in readership, and I’ve gotten some negative feedback. I get it. What I wrote is inherently film snobbish (which I tried to cop to in the intro), but I also think there are fair arguments to be had about not just Why Him specifically but also what it represents about the state of and ongoing direction of American comedy. Your defense of the Pink Panther bit indicates you completely disagree, and that’s fine. What works for one person might not work for someone else. The video essay I embedded makes a larger argument about this trend which I personally agree with.

        “Porn referenced humor is so mainstream that it also goes with the generation gap theme.”

        That is directly a reflection of my own experience watching the film Christmas Day 2016 in a soldout showing. When those bukkake jokes came at us, I swear to you that I didn’t hear a single woman laugh but I sure heard lots of men. As I said in the piece, it then struck me as funny to imagine the conversations afterward.

        “The entrepreneurial mind of a trump voter has no conflict with any business element presented. Everything people had was from their ability to innovate and give consumers what they want. The paper business wasn’t saved, the workers found jobs in a new industry. That’s not charity or corporate welfare, but market evolution. So your comment made no sense to this trump voter”

        Again, I wrote this less than 2 months after Trump had been elected and a month before he’d been sworn in. As a decidedly anti-Trump person, I was still trying to figure out what had happened and how to rectify the altered state of the world. I think your summation helps me understand the mind of a Trump voter more (in a good way), and I thank you for that. I still think, though, the cultural clash in that movie is very blue state vs. red stage in composition and the notion of Silicon Valley saving floundering Midwestern industries makes for an odd dynamic, but if you’re cool with it….well, you’re the Trump voter, not me. In my reading, you’re the one who would be more offended by that than me, and the fact that you aren’t indicates I might have overestimated the importance of that part of the movie. Your comment about the paper business not being saved but instead transferred to a new industry is accurate, but that doesn’t completely fly in the face of the Trumpian message to coal and factory workers to save their jobs as is instead of training and adapting them to new industries?

  5. The first thing you need to wrap your mind around with politics is the “trump voter” as you put it, is not some universal group think. Rather the only thing that is actually agreed on is an attitude of to each their own, people are responsible for their own choices good and bad. This is why conservatives fight amongst each other so much, we’re all fiercely independent by nature.

    The reason conservatives have disdain for some major tech entrepreneurs isn’t for their success, or even necessarily where invest. It’s when they use their influence to push wacko agendas that force others to fund things they neither want or approve of, that’s slavery. If you donate to a charity or start a business I don’t like it doesn’t affect me. However, if said endeavors agenda is to remove my freewill to participate or not, then there’s issues. You mentioned both coal and factory jobs, which were artificially suppressed by regulations which fund industrial rivals though subsidies. The end consumer is forced to pay for this as they are purchasing what they actually want. Our issues are with government regulation, not with a business. They should survive or fail based on consumer demand not government picking favorites. Tech giants just tend, on a personal level, to wield their influence to accomplish this against most Americans.

    If in the movie Franco had pushed for a tax on paper because of deforestation, and then received a subsidy for being paperless that would be wrong as paper customers pay for the subsidy. But that’should not the case, paperless is just a market trend and the paper industry is suppressed by less demand and more overhead. I live in an area where 20yrs ago it was believed that if you got into a papermill you were set. We had many that ran 24/7 in our area, now only a few, some converted to recycling mills. Technology and thus markets change, you can’t save what consumers don’t want…and competitive industries shouldn’t pay for it.
    Sorry for the long windedness, this is after all just about a lighthearted slapstick comedy about the generation gap, no different than Pauly shores “son in law”, or any other parents don’t approve children’s choices story.

    Reply

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