Robert De Niro
Meet The Parents is an uproarious comedy that proves yet again that Robert De Niro should seriously consider more comedy roles in the future. With a smart screenplay and a solid cast to deliver it to near perfection, this laugh fest from Austin Powers director Jay Roach delivers enough solid laughs to make this one of the better comedies to come out of Hollywood in at least a year.
Ben Stiller plays Greg Focker (a last name that gets a lot of comic mileage here), a Chicago male nurse who is ready to propose to his longtime love, the beautiful Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo). But first, he must get the approval of Pam’s overbearing and overprotective father, a CIA vet named Jack (De Niro). When Pam’s sister abruptly announces that she is getting married the upcoming weekend, Greg decides that this will be the perfect time to meet Jack and Pam’s mom Dina (Blythe Danner), get pop’s approval and propose to his love. Seems like the perfect plan.
Of course, that is when everything goes wrong. From having his luggage (carrying the engagement ring inside) lost by the airline to nearly burning down his perspective in-laws’ house, if things can go wrong for Greg, they do. All of these mishaps do nothing to win over Jack either, as each embarrassing event seems to make Greg appear to be all the more wrong for Pam.
I will avoid going into detail about those embarrassing events, but I will tell you that they are some of the funniest things you will see in a movie this year (one such event had me laughing so much that I missed some of the dialogue for the next scene). Thankfully, Meet The Parents has more going for it than just visual gags. We all have been at the point Greg is at in the film, and Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg’s screenplay (based on a story by Mary Ruth Clarke and Greg Glienna), manages to take those fears we all inhabit and mine them into believable comic gold.
Even more impressive is the directing by Jay Roach, who was also responsible for the smart 1997 satire Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery and its lame 1999 sequel The Spy Who Shagged Me. Whereas the Austin Powers films seemed to increasingly thrive on gross-out humour more than anything else, Meet The Parents displays Roach’s comic timing and pacing that is reminiscent of a screwball comedy from yesteryear. Even if he lets the film lag for a short spell in the third act, he never lets the laughs lag and winds up with a comedy that will satisfy viewers sick of lame gross-out comedies like Scary Movie and Road Trip.
As mentioned before, Robert De Niro turns in another fine comedic performance. Granted, he shouldn’t make comedy his only choice for movie roles, but when he does a comedy and does it well (Midnight Run, Analyze This), he seems to be more relaxed on screen and gives a more accessible performance. This doesn’t mean that his character Jack is a warm-hearted and cuddly person (if I were Greg, I would be pretty scared of him too), it just means that there is a level of empathy that comes out in these characters that might be harder to find in some of his more serious characters.
Of course, De Niro isn’t the only one who shines here. Ben Stiller proves once again that he is one of the more talented comedic actors we have working in film today. Very few actors seem to be able to play an everyday Joe like Stiller does, and he takes that everyday quality and mixes it nicely with a solid, but not overbearing, level of physical comedy.
Polo is also quite good as Pam, the object of Jack’s protection and Greg’s affection; Danner plays Dina as the ultimate suburban mother with a level of straightforwardness that makes her a modern-day June Cleaver; Jon Abrahams tries to make the most with the slight role as Pam’s pothead brother and Owen Wilson has a funny, albeit small, rle as Pam’s former fianc, who still harbours feelings for her (of course).
Most commercial comedies these days seem to consist of two areas: gross-out joke-fests or MTV-fuelled idiocy. Thankfully, Meet The Parents falls into neither of those categories. It’s a smart, funny film that won’t insult your intelligence. It will just make you laugh out loud a great deal.