Robert De Niro is at the top of his comedic form in MEET THE PARENTS.
Playing, Jack Byrnes, a future father-in-law from hell, De Niro clearly
has the time of his life ruling the story's comedic roost. The rest of
the cast fits nicely into the groove he creates for them. And Jay
Roach, director of both of the AUSTIN POWERS pictures, sets an
absolutely perfect comedic pace.
The result is a movie that can have you laughing so hard that you run
the risk of injuring yourself. My son kept telling my wife to breathe,
worrying that she was going to make herself sick since she was laughing
so hard that she was starting to choke. (My septuagenarian parents were
busting a gut as well.) And in some of the longer jokes, such as a
discussion about whether milking a cat is possible, the laughs build to
such a crescendo that some of the best lines are lost amidst the
As the story begins, Ben Stiller, playing a character by the risible
name of Greg Focker, is about to propose marriage to Jack's oldest
daughter, Pam (Teri Polo). Surprisingly, this key part of the eldest
daughter is the only underwritten one, although Polo does a credible job
with it. Greg switches plans when he learns that her old-fashioned Dad
likes to have his permission asked first, so it's off to meet the
parents in order for him to pop the question to her dad.
The first impression of Jack is likely to be that he's a gracious host
and a real teddy bear. Soon, however, it becomes obvious that he is a
know-it-all and an absolute control freak, who runs his household with
military precision. To say that he and Greg don't hit off would be a
colossal understatement. They can't even discuss pets without Jack's
taking offense. Jack, being a (trained) cat person, can't understand
Greg's preferences for dogs. "Cats make you work for their affection,"
Jack informs Greg with disdain. "They don't sell out like dogs do."
James Herzfeld and John Hamburg's script gets as much or more mileage
from the physical comedy than the dialog, but the film never dissolves
into slapstick. Simple scenes that you've seen a hundred times before,
like two guys drag-racing their cars through city streets, are made
fresh. Through a combination of De Niro and Stiller's eye contact and
the way they make the cars screech to a halt at each red light, the
episode feels like you've never seen it before.
Once in the parent's house, Greg has such an awful time that he appears
about ready to commit suicide. Jack's a tough task-master who explains
to Greg, with hilarious euphemisms, that there will be no premarital sex
permitted while he's staying with them. Jack's wife is played sweetly
by Blythe Danner. "Under my roof, it's my way or the Long Island
Expressway!" Jack informs Greg.
In one of many funny subplots, Jack turns out to have an intriguing
past. A 34-year veteran of the CIA, he was responsible for
interrogating suspected double agents. With the aid of an antique lie
detector machine, he puts the screws on poor Greg. Jack is not the sort
that you'd want to mess with. "If I find you are trying to corrupt my
first born, I will bring you down!" Jack tells Greg in no uncertain
terms. "I will bring you down to Chinatown!"
The occasion for the big visit to the parents is the wedding of Pam's
sister, Debbie (Nicole DeHuff), to a hot-shot doctor. Greg, in
contrast, is "just" a male nurse, an occupation that earns him no small
amount of grief from Jack and others. Kevin Rawley (Owen Wilson), Pam's
filthy rich ex-fiancé, comes to the wedding as well, much to Greg's
consternation. Kevin and Pam, a pair of golden gods, look like they're
still an item. The dark-haired Greg clearly looks like the odd man out.
Perhaps the reason that MEET THE PARENTS is so eminently likeable is
that it is such a good-spirited comedy. And at its core, it is a truly
sweet romance. One thing is certain, its conclusion contains one of the
most unusual marriage proposals that you are ever likely to see.
MEET THE PARENTS runs 1:48. It is rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug
references and language and would be acceptable for kids around 11 and
Most of the movie's comedy did not work for my son, Jeffrey, age 11, who
gave the film just **. He said that he found the jokes old and
repetitive. He thought the parents were too weird, and he didn't find
any characters to like.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes