Bryan Cranston Joining 'Why Him?' Will Remind Us His Real Strength Is In Comedy
Bucking the trend of Bryan Cranston’s healthy collection of developing screen projects is its latest addition. You see, Cranston joins James Franco in Why Him?, a comedy film pitting Cranston against the unfavorable love interest of his character’s daughter, played by James Franco. Why Him? doesn’t exactly fit in with the biographies, period pieces, and high-stakes crime thrillers that amount to the bulk of the actor’s foreseeable professional future. Certainly, I Love You, Man director John Hamburg’s latest endeavor doesn’t carry quite the pedigree of Cranston’s likewise in-the-works Great Depression drama In Dubious Battle , his small screen Lyndon B. Johnson biography All the Way , or eponymous Dalton Trumbo biopic. Nevertheless, Why Him? might be the Cranston venture that offers the greatest promise: the chance to see him be funny again.
The public loved Cranston’s stint on Breaking Bad as that which rescued the relatively unknown actor from a legacy of sitcoms alone. His turn as series star Walter White introduced a dramatic talent previously unrecognized, prompting fans to testify in favor of Cranston’s transformation, thanks to his role on AMC, from a regular sitcom actor to a bona fide thespian. Granted, a good few took the opportunity of Cranston’s Breaking Bad-era rise to pay tribute to the exceptional comic talent, as exhibited in particular on Malcolm in the Middle, that always suggested more that met the eye.
But this statement, usually serving less as an independent celebration of Cranston’s comic craft and more as evidence of his flexible dramatic power, never went so far as to revive the visage of Hal in the aftermath of Walt’s demise. Since breaking out on Breaking Bad, Cranston has entertained the gamut of drama and the genre spectrum, but has done very little humorous work. At least outside of the occasional web video. But this shifting of Cranston’s gears isn’t enough on its own to make Why Him? an exceptionally exciting prospect for the actor. Cranston’s return to comedy is exciting because he just might be better at it than he is at drama.
In the company of good writing and great direction, Cranston built an enchanting character in Walter White. But Walt relied just a bit too much on the sensationalism of his story — the yet unfamiliar hero-turned-villain model, his exponentially increasing irrevocability — to be credited as a masterful work of dramatic performance on Cranston’s part. His capabilities have shone through much more vividly in far less obvious settings. The aforementioned Malcolm in the Middle stands as a paramount example.
The family sitcom was indeed championed as an interesting departure from its contemporaneous ilk, and does win the occasional laudatory look back even today. But Malcolm doesn’t make many “Best Of” lists, or even traipse into casual conversations about priority television of yore. It’s remembered, at best, as a pretty good watch. Recollections of Cranston on the program, however, deserve a greater league of admiration.
Armed with perfect, though not revolutionary, material, Cranston made of his Malcolm character Hal — a working class father of four (later five) imbued at once with childlike enthusiasm and paralyzing anxiety — a delightful hybrid of vaudeville comic and cartoon character. Cranston’s chronically frantic delivery of dialogue played second fiddle only to his physical comedy, a recipe of manic contortions suggesting an absence of solid vertebrae.
And Malcolm is hardly the only showcase of Cranston’s comic prowess: He’s done far more with supporting parts on Seinfeld, The King of Queens, and How I Met Your Mother than might have been demanded by the characters’ scripted parameters.
We’ve seen what Cranston can do with a dramatic role, and we’ve given him due praise as such. But, with little chance of winning our amazement to the degree that he did with Walter White, Cranston would be better off proving further that his true knack is for earning laughs. Clearly, the world still hasn’t seemed to properly recognize his comic aptitude. Why Him? could at least give him an opportunity to remind us why his face was familiar even in the days before Breaking Bad.