Meet the Parents
review by Dan Lybarger, 22 September 2000

Because of the inherent terror involved in meeting oneís future in-laws, the comic possibilities are endless. Somehow director Jay Roach, whoís behind the Austin Powers flicks, almost blows it in Meet the Parents. With Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro in the leads, itís a canít-miss proposition. But a needless reliance on toilet gags almost derails a simple but potent setup.

Stiller stars as Greg Focker (it takes no effort to imagine what the writers come up with for that surname), a male nurse whoís deeply attached to an elementary school teacher named Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo). Greg would like to use the long weekend to pop the question to his beloved. But, Gregís affections and his sanity are put to the test when he joins her for a trip from Chicago to Upstate New York to meet her parents, Jack (DeNiro) and Dina (Blythe Danner).

The trip begins disastrously when the airlines lose Gregís bag. If that situation in itself wasnít bad enough, the bag contained Pamís two-carat engagement ring. The two of them arrive safely at their destination, and Jack and Dina live in a nicely furnished, two-story house. Still, something seems wrong. Maybe itís the way that Jack has trained his beloved cat to use the toilet. Another possibility could be that Jack almost violently dislikes people who prefer dogs over cats. The fellow also writes morbid attempts at poetry and has installed an elaborate surveillance system throughout his house. Gregís discomfort mushrooms to the point that he feels compelled to lie about himself. This is a stupid move because it increases Jackís suspicions about Greg.

Greg quickly discovers that Jack has strong reasons for distrusting anyone, much less a potential suitor. Jackís hair trigger temper and constant paranoia arise from spending thirty years as a CIA interrogator. If surviving Jackís third degree werenít enough, Greg finds himself enlisted to help out with the wedding for Pamís sister and enduring the discomfort of hanging out with Pamís old flame, a chronic overachiever named Kevin (Owen Wilson, from Shanghai Noon).

Just about all of these factors can lead to good nervous chuckles, but Roach and screenwriters James Herzfeld and John Hamburg (working from a story by Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke) handle the story with the subtlety of a nuclear explosion. There's a lot of choice gags. For example, try to keep a straight face as Greg, a Jew who obviously spends little time in the synagogue, tries to say grace before a meal. Nonetheless, itís much more fun watching Stiller and DeNiro riffing off each other than it is to see a seemingly endless series of sequences devoted to a faulty septic tank and its impact on the home. To be fair, some of the excess works in spite of itself.;  the sight of Stiller in a Speedo is hysterical despite the actorís buff physique. As it stands, Meet the Parents is an entertaining comic nightmare, but like most bad dreams, it disappears once the lights come up.

Directed by:
Jay Roach

Ben Stiller
Robert De Niro
Nicole DeHuff
Blythe Danner
Teri Polo
Jon Abrahams
James Rebhorn
Phyllis George
Owen Wilson
Thomas McCarthy

Written by:
Greg Glienna
Mary Ruth Clarke



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