It takes a certain kind of bullishness to program your Christmas film through January. Even worse when, for the most part it’s set in sunny, sunny LA. I imagine it came out last week when I wasn’t paying attention but, in January, Christmas feels as further off then ever. Then you hear a festive jingle and the entire audience starts getting flashbacks to those roaring Yuletide arguments. I shouldn’t blame the film for my seeing it late; and I don’t, I blame the cinema.
The Film revolves around Ned Fleming (Brian Cranston) who gets invited out by his daughter and her new boyfriend to visit them over the holidays. It’s a dad comedy. Like there’s no way to put that which sounds good, there’s mum comedies and son comedies and daughter comedies and stoner comedies and frat comedies and black comedies and they all have something in their makeup to recommend them. Dad comedies are unsalvageable. There can be nothing of worth to escape that black hole of mediocrity. You see they have to be safe, there can be nothing allowed to exist here that could possibly upset the sensibilities of the older middle class male.
That means the racism gets a check. You know, just against the Germans and the Japanese though. So, like, the ones it’s okay to offend because grandpa fought in the war, you know, and he said things like that all the time. The young, that’s a prime one too, those goddarn kids, what’ll they come up with next? Women get it easy throughout the running time because they’re our hero’s property (or hell they may as well be). You get a sense of how fucking boring this entire enterprise is?
We got talented people here Cranston, Franco, Zoey Deutch (from 2016’s Everybody Wants Some!!!), Megan Mullally (from everything), Keegan-Michael Key (who, to be fair, puts in good work, and the edit cannot keep its eyes off him) but they are saddled with this pedestrian, pedestrian material. They all doing their best but it just ain’t enough in this overlit, overtold story. There’s a sequence in here lifted from Cars 2. See. See this. Pixar did this joke five years ago and it was still shitty then.
I just want to take a moment here to put some disdain on the score. I know I’m not going to find a place anywhere else. It’s not even the whole score, it’s mostly inoffensive, but when that ‘heartwarming’ cue kicks in. It’s like something lifted outta The Bachelor, this insipid muck music.
In the end, the moral to the story is that daddy’s always right. Or if he’s not always right, then his son is. Sure, the character admits wrongdoing but no, everyone else thinks that they were probably overreacting and his way is probably best. The shit? It’s just all okay in the end, all okay. Nothing amazing, cause dads don’t like amazing, it might make them feel inferior. Nothing challenging, why challenge, papa knows best.
You know, when people talk about the economic anxiety of Trump voters I’ve never really understood it. This film made me. Maybe that makes it an enriching experience, I don’t know. The narrative thrust here lies in a middle aged white man worrying that maybe the future might not be as prosperous as the past. Worrying that a developing world may leave him behind. The film had a chance here to address these concerns. But it just gotta gotta gotta be safe. The conclusion the film reaches regarding the future of middle America is about as unlikely as the chances of a Trump presidency helping anyone. As such, it fails, both itself and its audience.
Why Him? – As bad as a Trump Voter.