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Meet the Parents

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Meet the Parents

Starring: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller
Director: Jay Roach
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: October 2000
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Blythe Danner, Teri Polo, Owen Wilson, Spencer Breslin, Phyllis George, Tom Hodges, James Rebhorn, Nicole De Huff

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When a young man's fancy lightly turns to love, before he pops the question he'd better realize that he's marrying not only one woman but the girl's whole family. If the lucky woman is a first-born, daddy's little girl, and has enjoyed a solid relationship with her father, that's a good sign for the most part. A woman's relationship with her dad is a barometer of her future life with her young man. On the other hand, a father with a strong personality who thinks that no one is good enough for his lovely daughter can put a crimp in marriage plans, particularly if the family is of a different class or ethnic/religious background. Such a situation could produce a yarn that brings tears to the eyes ("Romeo and Juliet" or could be the basis of a story of unmitigated charm ("Annie Hall"). In "Meet the Parents," Jay Roach employs a script by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg (taken from a story by Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke) to bring on a steady stream of audience laugh with the obligatory sentimental ending. "Meet the Parents" is just intermittently laugh-out-loud (for a better movie this season take in Christopher Guest's "Best in Show") but given the difficulty of extracting howls from a sophisticated audience, "Meet the Parents" meets the standards of good, dependable humor.

Jay Roach milks the comedic effects of a meeting between a potential father-in-law from hell and a young man who is a bit of a shnook--as well as a member of class and culture distinct from the dad. Peter James's camera focusses in a male nurse Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) as he practices a marriage proposal on a patient in the ICU, later picking up with fiance Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo) who has just taught a class in meditation to some bright-looking first-graders. They take off from Chicago to her parents' picture-perfect home outside New York City as Greg--having lost his luggage has one strike against him while his name, Focker, is strike two-- meets the parents. Since old money, WASPish Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) is so overprotective of his daughter that he once rejected her all-American suitor Kevin Rawley (Owen Wilson), Greg seems not to have a chance--despite his acceptance by Jack's considerably warmer and more embracing wife, Dina (Blythe Danner).

The gags are principally of the slapstick variety, the most prominent occurring when Greg, desperately trying to capture Jack's beloved Himalayan cat who has fled from the house, climbs after the feline on the roof thereby releasing a Rube Goldberg string of mishaps that barely avoids gutting the entire house. Other sources of physical humor are located within the intense volleyball game played inside the Byrnes' swimming pool and the sewage-laden flood which Greg creates throughout the backyard lawn when he flushes a malfunctioning toilet, while the more verbal chuckles come from a lie detector test that Jack administers to his prospective son-in-law and the good-natured dialogue between Greg and Pam's multi-talented and strikingly handsome former suitor Kevin.

Robert De Niro shows once again his ability to do schtick as well as he can perform in shadier roles by setting intricate and sometimes devastating traps to find an excuse to get rid of Pam's latest suitor. For his part Ben Stiller plays beautifully against the older man who comes from a different world and evokes laughs even when simply standing still while obeying the schoolmarmish commands of an airline boarding agent. When the jokes work, the picture is on target, but many of the gags seem written for TV as we wait vainly for a laugh-track to kick in.

Robert De Niro, having already proved his ability to do shtick in "Analyze This," furthers his breadth as a comic artist while Ben Stiller--who can deliver laughs simply by standing sheepishly and wordlessly just beyond a airline boarding ramp at the schoomarmish instructions of a ditzy reception agent--is De Niro's match. (Recall Stiller's performance in a similar vein as a rabbi confronting his best friend, a priest, in "Keeping the Faith"). Teri Polo provides good support as a female straight man in a comedy that works for the most part while in other sections has the audience waiting for a TV laugh track that doesn't come.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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