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‘Why Him?’ puts her out of sight

James Franco, left, as Laird and Zoey Deutch as his girlfriend, Stephanie, with her family: Ned (Bryan Cranston), Barb (Megan Mullally) and Scotty (Griffin Gluck) in “Why Him?”
James Franco, left, as Laird and Zoey Deutch as his girlfriend, Stephanie, with her family: Ned (Bryan Cranston), Barb (Megan Mullally) and Scotty (Griffin Gluck) in “Why Him?”

Every generation gets the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” that speaks most trenchantly to the evolving cultural issues of our time. Apparently, ours is “Why Him?” where the young suitor isn’t racially other, 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, written by Hamburg, Ian Helfer and Jonah Hill – Stanford senior Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) invites her tight-knit 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 unexpected naked rear 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 they could never have expected.

“Why Him?” is probably the best send-up of contemporary California tech culture to date. There’s the yoga, the fussy food (Laird practices “lawn-to-table” cuisine with the help of “Top Chef” Richard Blais), the pretentious art (a moose suspended in its own urine), the celebrity, the wealth, the tank tops, for crying out loud. 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 that take place.

There’s fun to be had in watching the Flemings go Cali, as mom Barb (Megan Mullally) learns about vaping and twerking and ’tween son Scotty (Griffin Gluck) takes up code and a slouchy beanie. Cranston, ever the fuddy-duddy crank, as Ned, is more resistant. Threatened by Laird’s off-putting lack of filter and peculiar ways, he staunchly refuses to give his blessing.

Franco is quite funny in his uniquely laid-back way as the computer nerd who never quite figured out how to interact with a family.

The biggest problem with “Why Him?” though, is her. Stephanie is so underwritten, that though these men are competing ruthlessly over her, she drops out of the story completely.

Why Him?

Cast: Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Griffin Gluck, Keegan-Michael Key

Director: John Hamburg

111 minutes

Rated R (strong language and sexual material throughout)

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