From the very beginning of Why Him?, when two middle-class parents accidentally spot the bare behind of their daughter’s ultra-rich tech guru boyfriend, the film produces a distinct aura of lazy writing and sheer predictability. As time passes, that aura does not dissipate. In fact, it escalates.
Why Him? is essentially Meet the Parents (2000) for a younger, more technologically adept audience, as well as their technologically illiterate parents and potential in-laws. Or at the very least, it tries to be. Ned and Barb (Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally) are invited to meet their pleasant daughter Stephanie’s (Zoey Deutch) boyfriend Laird (James Franco) in California for Christmas. Soon after arriving at Laird’s extravagant estate, Ned quickly discovers that Laird is quite, well… Free-spirited, and fond of being overly honest about everything (and also fond of Ned’s wife – his girlfriend’s mother).
Why Him? tries to make a statement of sorts, about the conflict that can arise when older generations are unwilling to embrace technology and anything that is less than straight-laced. Where Laird is a billionaire who owns a talking house, Ned is struggling with the demands of owning an increasingly failing paper company. What could have been an intelligently humorous reflection of this very realistic theme flowing throughout society, winds up being vastly overshadowed by a number of cheap gags and clichéd conflict. There’s not exactly much more to the tension between Ned and Laird, besides the fact that Laird is often inappropriate. We never really root for the two to buddy up, so the stakes never seem high enough during their conflict. When the resolution does come, it seems random and lazily conjured up.
Another problem with the film is that it tries, and fails, to appeal to progressively minded audience members. A random speech made by Stephanie towards the film’s end has all the bark of an independent woman who don’t need no man, but ultimately, none of the bite needed to truly make such a message land. The film’s seasoned cast slightly elevates its appeal, and adds a small dose of magic to a number of jokes that would have been outright terrible if they were performed by lesser performers. But ultimately, a few well-delivered jokes does not save Why Him? from being a crass caper evidently designed for men who like maximum vulgarity and minimum substance.
According to Megan Mullally, the cast was given free access to improvise as much as they wanted to and eventually 240 hours of films was shot on camera, which had to be trimmed to 90 minutes for the final film.