For a long time you totally creeped me out. In a big way. Every time I saw you onscreen, from Superbad forward, I found myself repulsed. And it wasn’t due to any obvious physical characteristics. There was just something non-specific about you that I read as off-putting.
That was on me, not you, and I’ve entirely changed my tune these days. Part of that change is just not being so knee jerk judge-y, but most of it is because you’ve won me over—probably as long ago as your sharp, understated performance as a big data guy in Moneyball. And this year one of my favourite supporting performances was your notary public character in Hail, Caesar!. So I was cautiously optimistic when I saw your credit as one of the writers for Why Him?.
I was not looking forward to this film at all. The one trailer I saw made it look like any number of romantic comedies - a genre that is mostly kryptonite for me. But as I was scanning Why Him?’s IMDb page, I saw your name and thought, hmm, maybe not so bad. Still, I wasn’t holding my breath for anything more than something that wasn’t completely irritating.
And surprise, surprise, after about ten minutes in I was completely on board with Why Him?.
James Franco plays a video game designer with zero filters who is finally about to meet his lover’s family—a family that includes an archetypical, buttoned down, Midwestern dad played by Brian Cranston. Once they do meet, it becomes painfully clear they share very little common ground. The rest of the film is about whether or not this seemingly unbridgeable cultural rubicon can be crossed. Nothing new on that front, clearly. Where this film does distinguish itself is in where this well-tread path leads.
Aside from pointing out how archaic a lot of the family dynamics at play here are, the thing Why Him? does pretty well is explore the difference between perception and reality, superficial appearances and actual character. Franco seems wholly bro-ish in his demeanour: profusely tattooed and slinging profanity like an overworked short order cook. Cranston is uptight to the point of blowing a valve at every instance of cultural disconnect. But as the story unspools each of those caricatures is neatly deconstructed—mostly by some uncharacteristically nuanced character work by Cranston and Franco.
Which brings it all back to you, Jonah. This film manages to echo my own personal evolution regarding you as an actor/person, and also illustrates how badly first impressions can mislead. As a result, Why Him? is surprisingly resonant. And structurally it’s tightly plotted, without a lot of the meandering that the current crop of Judd Apatow-adjacent American comedies seem so prone to these days.
All in all this is a charming, slightly foul-mouthed film, with some pretty funny moments and an engaging, if familiar, story. I left the theatre happy, and with a renewed appreciation for your work.