Who’d be the father of a daughter?
It has profound and lovely rewards, I’m sure. But as soon as a girl reaches her teenage years, her dad naturally has to start worrying that his princess is going to get knocked up by some knuckle-dragging moron that he wouldn’t normally let into the house.
My offspring are boys, so all I have to worry about is that one of them might turn out to be that knuckle-dragging moron, which is a troubling thought, but not in the same league.
The fear a dad naturally has about his daughter’s choice of partner is the premise of Why Him?, a movie which has some problems but isn’t worthy of the trashing it’s got from many people at IMDB and the like.
Bryan Cranston as Ned Fleming is turning 55 as the film starts, and he’s enjoying the attention of friends and family at the kind of celebratory meal that only happens in the movies.
But the contribution of his daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), live via video from her university dorm, doesn’t go quite the way everyone expected. While she’s paying tribute to her dad, her boyfriend Laird (James Franco) comes into her room complaining about his aching blue balls, and proceeds to drop his trousers in view of the webcam. For Ned, who didn’t even know she was dating, it’s the end of his happy birthday, and clearly the end of any peace of mind he might previously have enjoyed.
Stephanie is aware that the family needs a more formal introduction to the guy who waved his genitals at them over Skype, so she has them fly from Minnesota to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with them.
Laird, it emerges, is rich. He’s some sort of internet billionaire, with a giant house full of ridiculous art (e.g. a moose suspended in its own urine). His staff loaf around playing video games there, and while he doesn’t pay them much attention, the household is watched over by an Alexa-style artificial intelligence system voiced by Kaley Cuoco from The Big Bang Theory.
As soon as the Flemings arrive, Laird is greeting them too effusively – dropping F-bombs all over the place and making highly inappropriate compliments about the hotness of Steph’s mom Barb (nicely played by Megan Mullally). It soon emerges that Laird is planning to propose to Steph, and she wants Ned’s blessing first.
The problem for Ned – and at with Why Him? in general – is that Laird is a dick.
In his defence, he doesn’t seem to have a malicious bone in his body, and the movie tries to explain his lack of social skills by revealing that he didn’t know much in the way of parental care. But that doesn’t make him much easier to take.
Director and co-writer John Hamburg made a much better comedy, I Love You Man, in 2009. The earlier movie was a bromance in which engaged nice guy Paul Rudd realises he doesn’t have any male friends to choose a best man from. His quest to make some guy pals quickly leads him to discover Jason Segel, an independently wealthy guy leading an unashamedly masculine life.
Whereas Segel’s character was charming because he was uninhibited and admirably honest, Franco’s Laird is just a wanker with some redeeming features.
Hamburg put a few gross-out gags into I Love You Man, but Why Him? is full of them, and some are pretty laboured. A sequence in which Ned has to take a dump in a hi-tech, paperless toilet seems to go on forever, as though Hamburg is convinced that the more minutes you devote to a joke, the funnier it gets.
So, why doesn’t deserve the pasting it’s getting in some user reviews?
Firstly, because some of the jokes do land. It would be churlish not to admit that there are some good laughs.
And secondly, in a culture obsessed with youth, Why Him? generally doesn’t stereotype and deride its middle-aged parents. It’s easier to respect the decent Ned than the tiresome Laird, and on a couple of occasions, Ned even gets to prove himself cooler than his would-be son-in-law.
Despite my reservations, by the time the film reached its Christmassy closure, I was feeling warm about it.
It’s good to have a movie that tackles one of the fears that haunt dads everywhere.
That said, not too many dads will have to come to terms with their daughter falling for a tosser who’s an internet billionaire.
It’s far more likely that she’ll fall for a tosser who just says he’s going to be an internet billionaire.