Every generation gets the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” that speaks to the cultural issues of our time. Apparently, ours is “Why Him?” where the suitor isn’t racially different but from a completely different planet when it comes to culture, values and social norms.
That planet? Silicon Valley.
In “Why Him?,” directed by John Hamburg, Stanford senior Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), invites her Michigan family to spend Christmas with her boyfriend, Laird (James Franco). It’s only appropriate, seeing as their first introduction to the man was his naked butt on their video chat screen at dad Ned’s (Bryan Cranston) birthday celebration. And when the Flemings land in the Bay Area, they’re in for a cultural odyssey.
“Why Him?” is probably the best send-up of contemporary California tech culture to date. There’s the yoga, the fussy food, the pretentious art (a moose suspended in its own urine), the celebrity, the wealth, the tank tops. When we see these cultures clash, it’s clear that #Calexit has already happened — it might as well be a foreign country for all the toilet mishaps and communication misunderstandings.
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There’s fun to be had in watching the Flemings go Cali, as mom (Megan Mullally) learns about vaping and twerking, and the tween son (Griffin Gluck) takes up code and a slouchy beanie. Cranston, ever the fuddy duddy crank, is more resistant. Threatened by Laird’s peculiar ways, he refuses to give his blessing.
Franco is funny in his laid-back way as the computer nerd who never figured out how to interact with a family. His tribe is made up of Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key), his concierge, trainer and best friend, whose German accent wavers into Jamaican territory at times. He’s also hired Kaley Cuoco — “the girl from ‘Big Bang Theory’!” he exclaims — to voice Justine, the all-seeing, all-knowing smart house entity whose helpfulness verges on the intrusive.
In that vein, there are opportunities to explore how technology goes wrong, but “Why Him?” is far more about how the culture of tech is wacky; in this world, tech is good, tech has the power and money to save Middle American manufacturing companies and keep jobs in the U.S. of A. If a little privatized surveillance comes along with it, so be it.
The biggest problem with “Why Him?” though, isn’t him, it’s her. Stephanie is so underwritten, she drops out of the story. That’s not the fault of the winsome Deutch; it’s that the writers haven’t fleshed out her character. So we latch on to the kooky Laird and stern Ned, whose rivalry the film revolves around.
Rated R for strong language and sexual material throughout. 1:51. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.