Movie critics are generally, a bunch of idiots. This movie is the perfect example. Right now, it’s only getting around 35% good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. The important, Oscar-bait movie Fences is getting around 95%. Fences isn’t good. My review when it’s released will explain why. This movie is a comedy. And you laugh. Often. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Sure, it has flaws. But we’re not watching Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. We’re mixing a Meet the Parents and The In-Laws, and adding a dash of Judd Apatow, for a cocktail created by a drug infused screenwriter (thank you Ian Helfer and Jonah Hill).
It’s funny how when we see the trailers for comedies, we always think they look terrific, only to find out they showed the funniest parts in the commercials. This was the opposite. I didn’t think the trailers looked that great, aside from the terrific casting of Bryan Cranston and James Franco playing off each other. And what we get is a hysterical film.
Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) is shown celebrating his 55th birthday at Applebee’s. That’s a funny enough start right there. When his daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch of Everybody Wants Some!! and daughter of Lea Thompson) sends an instant message, her boyfriend Laird Mayhew (James Franco) walks into the room taking his pants off. That makes things a bit more awkward when the family flies out from Detroit to California to spend Christmas with her. As you see from the commercials, Laird and Ned don’t get along. Yet where the movie plays it smart is…it actually seems realistic. It’s not some over-the-top thing where Laird tries to do horrific things to the father of his girlfriend. He’s actually a sweet guy and wants to impress him. Now, the one flaw in the movie (and it’s a big flaw)…is that he’s such an imbecile, it’s almost unrealistic. There isn’t a human alive that could be this stupid, but also be a billionaire, that doesn’t know how to talk or clean up his act for adults he’s trying to impress. It also makes you wonder why Stephanie, who is gorgeous and smart, would want anything to do with this guy. Yet you’re willing to give this a pass because you’re laughing so much.
Laird is a new age goofball, who wants to live in a “paper free house,” which leads to problems when Ned needs to jot down a note, or use some toilet paper [side note: the toilet scene with him and comedic genius Keegan-Michael Key, is one of the funniest scenes of the year].
What makes that scene so funny, is something a lot of characters in this movie do well. Incredible facial expressions. That could be the 15-year-old boy that’s shocked by Laird’s cursing. It could be Ned, not being able to believe the stuff he’s hearing come out of Laird’s mouth; or his wife, played by Megan Mullally, who steals every scene she’s in. Her uncomfortableness with Laird is hysterical. The way she tries to be a peacekeeper is great. It’s something we’ve all seen moms do when a kid goes off to college and starts acting a bit crazy. And, when she smokes some pot and gets randy after a party (DJ’d by the famous Steve Aoki), her frisky scenes in the bedroom might be the funniest seduction scene you’ll see in years.
It’s always fun in movies like this when characters aren’t all just dolts. Laird was dumb enough for everyone. It’s funnier that every other character seems to have a brain. Even his manservant (“estate manager”) Gustav (Key). Gustav is always giving him decent advice, and they do a Pink Panther parody that never gets old.
Director John Hamburg’s (Along Came Polly, Meet the Parents) last movie was I Love You, Man, from seven years ago. That had its moments, but was ultimately disappointing. This has a bit of heart and emotion, but more importantly — it’s damn funny.
Often during the movie, the set pieces and scenarios were ones we’ve seen before. For example, a tattoo on Laird’s back that was done incorrectly. Yet each time I was ready to roll my eyes at an old premise, it had a punchline I didn’t see coming. Nobody said a comedy has to reinvent the wheel. It just has to make me laugh, and this did. Even when you have the cameos it has (which I wouldn’t dream of ruining), they give funny lines to the people that pop up. It’s not like they just have Martha Stewart or somebody walk into a scene, and the audience howls simply because of who it is. These cameos are hysterical because of who they are AND what they say.
There’s some good supporting work comedically, from the always reliable Cedric the Entertainer and Adam Devine (Workaholics, Pitch Perfect), as well as youngster Griffin Gluck as the younger brother. He has a few scenes that are laugh out loud funny. The entire cast’s commitment just really helps knock this out of the park.
Megan Mullally’s is the funniest role I’ve seen for a woman in a comedy since Allison Janney in The Way Way Back.
The guy I brought with me laughed harder than I’ve ever heard a human being laugh. He said when we were leaving that it’s the funniest movie since There’s Something About Mary.
It wasn’t that good, but it’s a terrific holiday comedy, that also takes place around Christmas.
It gets 3 ½ stars out of 5.