Rated R for shock humor. Okay, I'm turning into an old man. There are too many jokes in this movie that are entirely around saying swear words and doing shocking things. There's nudity. There's urine. There's lots of sex and kids saying awful things. Really, I could spend a lot of time explaining why this movie is R. But just be confident that it was going for shock value in a lot of these cases. R
DIRECTOR: John Hamburg
Guys! I might be able to take a little bit of a break. This is the last movie on my list. Unless my wife and I watch a movie tonight, I don't see how I can get a movie up by tomorrow. I built my blog schedule into incorporate natural lulls. I was beginning to wonder if one would ever show up and it did! So if I'm posting tomorrow, it's because I'm a real go-getter or we ended up watching something last second. Please don't abandon the blog, my few followers. I just realized that creating natural breaks might encourage better writing and lower my stress levels a bit. Besides, you were probably wondering how I could possibly watch a movie a day. I swear that my life is actually remarkably hectic, so keep this in mind.
I'm not going to lie. I might have a problem with John Hamburg. Mind you, I didn't know who John Hamburg was before this moment. But when I'm formatting this blog, I look up the director and see what else that the director has done. In this case, John Hamburg directed a little film called Along Came Polly. Along Came Polly was this very weird creature that I had a hard time identifying. It had a stellar cast, a cool premise, and some jokes that absolutely should work. But when I watched the movie, nothing was really hitting. It kind of felt like it was trying too hard at times. There wasn't anything artistically special about it. Really, it felt like the attitude was to cast a whole bunch of good people and then assume that the movie is going to be great. I can say that Why Him? kind of suffers from the same problem. (I may or may not include the question mark in the title of the film, based on how motivated I am. I apologize in advance.)
By all intents and purposes, Why Him? should have crushed. It had everything going for it. Okay, I think James Franco is a little creepy now. But he's a funny dude. Bryan Cranston has become a national treasure. You had the talent all in place and a premise that was just basically a Meet the Parents from the other perspective. Oh, that's what the movie is, by the way. Instead of sympathizing with the boyfriend, you sympathize with the dad. But it felt like everything was just trying too darned hard. While I consider Along Came Polly to be kind of a comedy travesty, Why Him? mostly works once I became comfortable with mediocrity. That's a bummer sentence to type, but it is also super duper true. Once I realized that the film absolutely avoided artistry and craftsmanship, it became okay that it was just a raunch fest. Now, I will say that I never found the language funny. It got real old, real quick. It's not that I have a problem with blue language. It's just that all of the language was meant to be a joke. I think the reaction was "Oh my goodness, I can't believe he said THAT!" And it just wasn't. It was a one-note joke that just kept on getting returned to.
Now I have to question the central conceit of the film. The movie really harps on the idea that Laird is a good guy, despite his many many flaws. Okay, there's something to be explored here. We know that, by the end, Ned Fleming is going to bond with Laird because we've seen this movie before, again, when it was called Meet the Parents. Ned has a lot of the same personality traits that Robert DeNiro's character does. He abuses his power in the attempt to protect his daughter from someone who is driving a wedge between them. Okay, pretty standard trope stuff. But the movie alleges that Laird is actually not only an ideal boyfriend, but the ideal for humanity. I might be overexaggerating, but Ned verbalizes his admiration for Laird at the end, stating, "You really don't have a single dishonest bone in your body, do you?" On this principle, the movie's message hinges. (Note: I will give this movie a point for establishing that both male characters are selfish, as verbalized by Stephanie.) But is complete honesty actually a moral good?
Laird is a manchild. He's a well-intentioned manchild, but he's still a manchild. As much as his language is meant to be displayed as a joke, he lacks any maturity whatsoever. Part of what he is makes him a sociopath. While I believe that he thinks that he loves Stephanie, he really is concerned with his own happiness. He does all of these things because money holds no value to him. He can give all of this money because he is beyond money. I'm not saying that all of the rich believe this. It's just that he doesn't understand the value of money. He invades these people's privacy. While he seems to admire the family, it isn't a two way street. It's kind of an odd celebrity worship. What I'm really getting at is that he completely lacks boundaries. While this creates the majority of the jokes throughout the movie, that is actually a pretty disturbing trait. He's not a good person. He's trying, and that's really admirable. But this obsession with surprises isn't for the other; it is for him. He so wants to prove that he has value as opposed to finding the value in the action in itself. There's nothing that is actually a sacrifice involved in these actions. The goodness of someone giving someone else a gift comes from the sacrifice that the action involved. When everything becomes disposable coupled with the notion that someone should be thanking you afterwards, that's a real problem.
Is honesty a good thing? Yes. I can't deny the value of honesty. But treating any virtue with absolutes can be really problematic, as displayed by Laird. Total altruism becomes an issue of boundaries. Saying whatever is on your mind is actually somewhat toxic. The reason that we have these filters is for the good of the other. By having Laird spout off any offensive thing to Ned isn't a sign that he's good. It's a sign that Laird values his own cultural norms than the norms of his guests. Remember, Ned is not there to win over Laird. Laird is there to win over Ned. Ned respects certain cultural touchstones. Yeah, I don't want to jump on board the "Boomers are right" train, but there's something to be said that anything archaic is kind of dumb and absurd. Laird buys what he wants, including feelings and friends. Why would Ned be excited for Laird to be in his life? Now, I could understand a narrative where Laird starts off low-key and, through a series of mistakes and nerves, screws that up. I keep jumping back to Meet the Parents, but that's a central idea behind that film. Greg Focker is trying to respect DeNiro's cultural norms and fails at it. That's something. But Laird keeps ignoring requests by Ned because that's his character.
It's a fine movie, I guess. I wanted more. Comedies are hard and sometimes a formula should work, but really doesn't. It isn't the raunch that's the problem. It's the dependence on the raunch that makes it fall apart.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.