WHY HIM? Review
Director: John Hamburg
“Stupid” is a delicate and specific kind of comedy. The merit in achieving it comes in acknowledged intelligence driving everything. Stupid characters often live within clever plots, and vice versa. That juxtaposition is key, functioning as an awareness to keep things grounded, even when delving into anarchy. The Farrelly Brothers, anyone from The State, Bob Odenkirk, The Zuckers, and heck, even Monty Python know and practice this. It’s troublesome that a lot of modern, mainstream, big budget American comedies are purely stupid all around. In the case of WHY HIM?, it’s doubly upsetting considering the amount of talent involved. There are funny people lining the cast and crew of this film, yet this thing is a hijinks-laden study of loose delirium. There’s a shell here that sells, and some decent moments that inspire genuine laughter, but if this is considered a genuinely full effort, then this industry, everyone in it, and even the audience, truly needs to reevaluate some things.
For the first 20 minutes of WHY HIM?, the central, and really only joke, is that James Franco says curse words. It’s not that he even says them in a funny fashion, it’s just that he says as many as possible. This turns into a running joke that fails to escalate, yet there’s a lot of blank space in these scenes, barely of reactions. The filmmakers behind AIRPLANE! had to leave dead air like this because they noticed that audiences were laughing so hard, that they were laughing over the next joke/scene. This is a quality tested buffer method, and it’s oddly respectable. With WHY HIM?, though, there doesn’t seem to be many thought out jokes. It’s a lot of loose improvisation upon half-baked ideas that run on for way longer than they need to. Some of the scene buttons in this film are astoundingly embarrassing, or just purely non-existent.
“IS SOMEONE GOING TO CALL CUT? IS THIS GOOD?”
A majority of WHY HIM? has this satirical look at rich Google culture,their tech, and goofy ways of looking at the world. Other parts have this personal narrative of family and expectation. These two perspectives feel so intensely underthought in their execution that when they clash, it’s perplexing more than effective, on either a laugh or heart-warmth level. The millennial culture satire feels like it’s written by someone of the confused and scared variety, much like Bryan Cranston’s character. It feels like this lame alternate universe that occasionally speaks to some truth in a goofy way, working mostly through prop comedy and background gags, but most of the time is too excessive or needlessly outlandish to be funny. Director John Hamburg’s previous work has revelled in the DEEPLY uncomfortable before, but has always managed to ground in a real sense of humanity, making the hyperbole akin to something like MAN SEEKING WOMAN, where metaphor comes to life. In WHY HIM?, even the “real moments” feel forced and obligatory through exposition and practice, failing to connect because the counterpart world it exists within is utterly unhinged lunacy, as opposed to deftly crafted idiocy.
It’s a little unfair to throw all the blame onto the performers here. I’d say they latch onto some things decently, especially by the end, once things are getting really absurd. Cedric the Entertainer, the underrated Zack Pearlman, the always fantastic Megan Mullally, and comedy mercenary Keegan Michael Key play support admirably, considering the weak material. They all deliver upon the inconsistent air of screwball comedy bred upon the premise, sometimes connecting, but often looking like they’re not being directed at all. Zoey Deutch is given an interesting role on paper that even thematically pays off as well as a story about a woman being fought over by her lover and her father could result in. She brings an infectious warmth with her character, but she doesn’t get to play along with the humor much, and her serious moments come off as disingenuous because of the inconsistency. Likewise, James Franco feels off. A business calculation of a comedic leader, I find him strong in reacting as opposed to starting fires. But WHY HIM? gives him a matchbook, and it’s perplexing to watch. He’s not incapable, but his looseness is a testament to this film’s overall lacking in control.
At least the mise-en-scène is on point
One of the more egregious crimes WHY HIM? commits is in wasting a good chunk of Bryan Cranston’s comedic ability. The man became a smash hit before BREAKING BAD with his utterly brilliant stint on MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE. He’s a genuine comedic performer, ready for screwball, slapstick, and everything in between. In his older age, the wrinkles on his face become a valuable tool for his animated reactions. A lot of this film is him reacting to things, which works in concept, but becomes so one note after an act that you wish he was given more to do. A quick sequence of him proudly bowling shows us the magic not in full use. Eventually he gets to take some action and become more aggressive, where a glimpse of his power is shown, but to put Cranston in a modest position and keep him there, not to mention fail to give him anything solid to truly work with, is a damn shame.
A common misconception is that comedies are easy to make. That’s an insult to a genre, medium, and state of mind that is not only visceral, but legendary in examples made with mountainous levels of care. Whether it’s in performance, editing, cinematography, or set piece, specificity is key, and filmmaking can be a subtle but potent tool for comedy. WHY HIM? Isn’t completely unaware of this. Outlandish decisions made in the structure of this film are enjoyable to a mildly delirious degree, especially in how they pay off. Kaley Cuoco plays herself voicing a household AI, and Keegan Michael Key continues to impress as an individual despite the whole he participates in; it’s almost unfair, but damn his charisma can soar. But these come part and parcel with what’s expected of a big budget, mainstream comedy today. You’ll get your needless montages, stupid celebrity cameos, the inexplicably long but always present dance club scene, and shoehorned attempts at maintaining a dramatic spine. Experimentation be damned, there’s a science to successfully pulling this off. Look at the cold and brutal parody of romantic comedy structure in THEY CAME TOGETHER. The trouble is that films like WHY HIM? fit these properties so succinctly that it’s become another example in a tiresome trend turned into genre convention.
“No, let’s… let’s just watch BOJACK HORSEMAN again.”
This feels like a studio write off, sellable and half functionable because of its cast. The missing link here is that they don’t give that cast enough to work with so it feels like a half-assed Jimmy Fallon sketch stretched to 90 minutes sporting a flaccid emotional backbone, ultimately wasted. There’s nothing wrong with televised sketch comedy, but the mainstream world’s idea of comedy intermingling with cinema feels restless. Save for some satirical beats, this film feels thrown together. Some of it works, but that cannot pass for good cinema alone. If that’s all you want, stay at home and watch Youtube. There’s hundreds of more clever pieces of comedy and cinema on there that were made for a fraction of a fraction of the budget. Cinema used to be, and still is, spectacle, and we should expect more. Otherwise, why bother?
Verdict: Do Not Recommend