Since his decidedly juvenile breakout hit, 1997's "Austin Powers:
International Man of Mystery," director Jay Roach has grown up quite a bit as
a filmmaker, as proven by "Meet the Parents." While still a comedy, much of
it sprouts solely from the sharply observed dialogue and the subtleties in
the comic performances, rather than from slapstick situations (although there
is some of this, as well), and the movie is better--funnier--because Roach
doesn't push as hard. Where the movie loses its luster, however, is in its
slightly overlong length to get to a point that can be telegraphed well in
advance. I hasten to add that there are jokes within that haven't made me
laugh quite so hard in a while, and they alone are worth the price of
admission to see, even if the whole enterprise comes off uneven.
The unfortunately named, sounds-like-it's-spelled male nurse Greg Focker (Ben
Stiller) is passionately in love with school teacher Pam (Teri Polo), so sure
that she is the one for him that he has bought an engagement ring to propose
to her. When word hits that Pam's younger sister (Nicole DeHuff) is getting
married, and her fiancee asked her father's permission before proposing to
her, Greg decides to take the same impressive, old-fashioned route. With the
marriage right around the corner, Greg decides to accompany Pam back home for
the festivities, meeting her parents for the first time.
Things go wrong for Greg right from the start, with his suitcase, which holds
the engagement ring, getting lost at the airport. Pam's father, Jack (Robert
De Niro), is a lovable family man who, nonetheless, holds a dagger for any
potential suitor who gets too close to his eldest daughter. A former worker
for the CIA, Jack believes in honesty and telling the truth at all times,
something Greg fails at in his attempt to win him, as well as Pam's lovable
mother, Dina (Blythe Danner), over.
As with the Chevy Chase-starring "National Lampoon's Vacation" series,
particularly 1989's raucous "Christmas Vacation" (which this film closely
resembles in many ways), everything that could possibly self-destruct for
Greg, does. From losing Jack's beloved cat, who has been trained to use a
toilet to do his business in, to nearly setting the whole house on fire,
Greg's chances of winning over Jack grow more and more obscure with each
passing second, when all he wants to do is be as good of a life partner as
possible to Pam.
"Meet the Parents" is an undeniable, crowd-pleasing comedy that refreshingly
doesn't rely on endless raunchiness to be funny, and is consistently
enjoyable up until the final fifteen minutes, which begin to overstay their
welcome. It is very clear from the get-go where the film is headed, so a
little tightness in the editing room might have solved its length problem,
and made the jokes arrive at a quicker rate.
Where the movie excels in its its two standout central performances. Ben
Stiller (1998's "There's Something About Mary") is perfectly cast in the type
of comedic role he does best: the hapless good guy who can't seem to do
anything right in the presence of others. When Stiller is forced to wear a
humiliating speedo, or discusses how to milk a female cat, he presses the
laughs for all their worth. His match in every way, Robert De Niro has great
fun in playing with his big screen image (as he did in 1999's "Analyze
This"). Essentially the straight man, De Niro is funny almost every time he
speaks, turning otherwise ho-hum dialogue into riotous gold.
The female parts aren't nearly as fully written, although both Blythe Danner
(1997's "The Myth of Fingerprints") and Teri Polo (TV's "Sports Night") are
likable in their parts. All other supporting roles are superfluous, including
Owen Wilson (2000's "Shanghai Noon"), wasted as Pam's ex-boyfriend. Showing a
little spark with virtually nothing to do is Jon Abrahams (2000's "Scary
Movie"), as Pam's teenaged stoner brother.
"Meet the Parents" follows a rather predictable, well-worn path, but the
sheer joy of performing on the actors' parts sells the film as a whole.
Director Roach and screenwriters Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg have made a
flawed, yet extremely witty comedy with enough spark to be able to disregard
the noticeable kinks. While not a classic, "Meet the Parents" is the type of
comedy that would be appropriate for almost any age group, all of which will
undoubtedly have a good time and be entertained. It's rare that you can say
that in a time when gross-out, scatological humor is at an all-time high, but
for "Meet the Parents," it suffices.
Copyright © 2000 Dustin Putman