Ned Fleming had this whole "life" thing figured out. Or so he thought.
Sure, it wasn't always easy. But now, at the age of 55, he seems to have it all together. He owns his own printing company. He's been happily married for decades. He enjoys a super-close relationship with both of his children: Ned sent his daughter, Stephanie, off to Stanford, and he couldn't be more proud of her, and he's grooming his 15-year-old son, Scott, to take over the family business.
But when Ned prints out his business's financials these days, he sees a steady stream of red. He wonders whether there'll even be a company for Scott to run. And now Steph's inviting the whole family to California to meet her rich boyfriend, a guy who introduced himself by mooning the Fleming family (and all of Ned's employees) while his daughter tried to wish Ned a happy birthday over Skype.
Not the best of first impressions.
But Ned loves his daughter. So he, wife Barb and Scotty fly out to California to spend Christmas with Steph and her new fella, Laird. Perhaps one shouldn't judge a man too harshly by one online call, exposed buttocks or not.
Alas, Ned soon has all sorts of other reasons to judge Laird harshly.
Ned loves his daughter. He only wants what's best for her, and Laird clearly—clearly—is not it. So when Ned asks Steph what she could possibly see in this tattooed, profane, sex-crazed gaming mogul, he's taken aback when she says, "He kind of reminds me of you."
Ned and Laird, she says, are two of the most honest, decent, guileless men she knows. She may be right, at least partially. Because while Laird certainly has his faults, he does care deeply for Steph. Indeed, he wants to marry her. But in a strangely old-fashioned twist, he won't pop the question unless Ned gives Laird his blessing.
We eventually learn that some of Laird's behavior can be traced to his terrible upbringing: He never knew his father, and his mother apparently forced him to spend most of his childhood indoors because she thought he needed to learn about computers. The strategy paid off, financially speaking, but at the expense of some of Laird's basic socialization skills.
The Fleming family spends a few days in Laird's California mansion. Ned and Barb's room is graced with a couple of Buddhas, including one lying strangely seductively on its side. People sing "Silent Night" and "The First Noel." The wind blast from a helicopter's rotors causes large nativity figures to crash through the windows of someone's house. There's talk of a "Christmas miracle."
In their first encounter in the film, Steph invites Laird to "Netflix and chill" (a slang phrase for watching movies and having sex). In the same conversation, Laird complains about going several days without having intercourse. (We see some pubic hair as he starts to remove his pants.) Laird constantly tells Ned and Barb how "sexy" their daughter is (often using crude, suggestive language). Laird and Steph have sex on Laird's desk while Ned hides under it. (We see them kiss and lie down, but nothing else is shown.) Laird tells Ned that not only have they been an item for far longer than Steph has suggested, they've been living together, too.
Laird's home is festooned with artwork depicting animals copulating (including interspecies relationships and threesomes). Scott ogles a suggestive sculpture made from wire that depicts a nude woman reclining. Even abstract sculptures obviously convey a sexually suggestive meaning.
Laird throws a party in the Flemings' honor, and people twerk and grind suggestively on the dance floor (including Barb). When Ned and Barb return to their room, Barb—admittedly stoned—does her best to seduce Ned in a visually suggestive scene. (There is no nudity, however.) She eventually retreats into the bathroom, frustrated by her husband's lack of interest, where she has a suggestive encounter with a high-tech toilet/bidet (with her shirt covering her anatomy).
Laird traipses into Ned and Barb's room, clothed in a bathrobe, and announces that he and Steph just had sex in the shower. He lounges on the Flemings' bed, displaying a bare leg to the clearly uncomfortable couple. He often compliments Barb on her figure, telling Steph later that if it wasn't for her, he'd pursue Barb sexually.
There are visual allusions to oral sex, anal sex and incest, and 15-year-old Scott mimics burying his head in pairs of imaginary breasts. A stuffed moose falls on Scott, with the animal's testicles resting on Scott's face. We hear crude references to homosexuality and various sexual acts, and there's a running joke involving a crude term for one particularly graphic act. Ned Googles Laird and uncovers a variety of pictures of him with other women. Ned tries to hack into Laird's computer and, at the suggestion of Ned's IT expert back home (who has a crush on Steph), tries a bevy of extremely crude and suggestive password possibilities. Ned worries that if Steph stays with Laird, she'll eventually become a prostitute (which is described with a variety of more colorful terms). Laird often links his passions for non-sexual things (success, picking out a Christmas tree) to sexual arousal.
Laird and Ned get into a fight. They hit each other in the head and chest and wrestle on the ground. Ned bites Laird's crotch during the fight. (Nothing is shown, but we hear Laird scream.) Ned also breaks an iPad across Laird's face.
Laird wants to train himself to fight in order to fend off would-be kidnappers. So he has his estate manager, Gustav, attack him at random moments. One such assault leads to the two wrestling on the ground using various complicated maneuvers to get the other to succumb. During another melee, Laird throws a live chicken at an attacking Gustov. The two scamper across garden sculptures before Laird ultimately misses a leap, crashing headlong into a huge piece of art.
Crude or Profane Language
Gustav says Laird and Ned speak two different languages. "He speaks English," Gustav tells Laird. "You speak English with resounding amounts of f---."
It's a word we hear quite often—upwards of 80 times, most of the time coming out of Laird's mouth. The s-word is uttered nearly 30 times, and a cornucopia of other profanities are used as well: "a--," "b--ch,""d--n," "h---," "p-ss," "d--k" and "t-tty." God's name is misused about 30 times in this Christmas movie, including twice with the word "d--n."
Drug and Alcohol Content
As mentioned, Barb gets stoned during a wild Christmas party. She was apparently introduced to "vaping," which she wrongly thinks means inhaling marijuana smoke. (The actual definition can be quite a bit broader.) Ned frets that Laird will get Steph into, as he calls it, "vaporizing," which will inexorably lead to heroin addiction. Scott (who, remember, is 15) quaffs alcoholic shots with a fellow reveler. Other partiers drink a variety of beverages, and Ned sips on a "deconstructed eggnog" a joke that later takes on sexual undertones.
Other Negative Elements
Laird's state-of-the-art abode is paperless: Even toilet paper is forbidden. A long, drawn-out gag involves Ned trying to figure out how to use one of the home's high-tech toilets. We see Ned sitting on the toilet as talcum powder and a stream of water eject from the bowels of the bowl; Gustav eventually comes in to reboot it while Ned's still trying to finish up (we hear embarrassing noises, and the smell is remarked upon). Gustav eventually uses an app (featuring a cartoonish bum) to target a stream of water into the exact spot needed to cleanse Ned's rear.
Others sit on toilets as well. Laird and Ned cut down and steal someone else's Christmas tree. One of Laird's sculptures features a dead moose suspended in a tank of urine: The tank eventually breaks, flooding the room and soaking its inhabitants with hundreds of gallons of the stuff. Ned recalls old Pink Panther movies, in which Inspector Clouseau used to call his Asian servant his "little yellow friend." Ned hacks into Laird's computer.
Christmas is a holy day, one of the most sacred on the Christian calendar. But even as Christmas has become increasingly secularized, we should never lose sight of the beauty and power of the season. As we sail through the darkest part of the year, we're reminded of the Light that came into the world to save us all, the gift above all gifts.
And it's that sense of the inherent holiness of Christmas, I think, make movies like Why Him? particularly jarring.
This movie is, admittedly, better-hearted than some similar entries in the wacky, nasty comedy genre. Laird is a profane, sexually irresponsible man-boy, but Why Him? suggests that at least some of his issues stem from his desire for connection, his need to connect with and to embrace Steph's own picture-perfect (if, the movie suggests, somewhat uptight) family. He's never had that before. He wants it desperately. And that's nice.
But that sweet message is undermined by the streams and reams of content we find here. Its familial themes are undercut by the movie's lack of moral clarity. Like, say, characters use f-words not just two or three times in the movie, but two or three times in a sentence, in Laird's case. And even though Laird wants the wisdom of the father he never had, mostly he just wants to have sex with Ned's daughter. The fact that the film so explicitly connects itself with such a sacred day left me feeling something less than the Christmas spirit.
Why Him? This zany, raunchy movie asks. When I left the movie, it had me asking another question: Why me?