Meet the Parents Review
By Joe Lozito
There's something about Family
"Meet the Parents" should really be called "Meet the Father" since the source of the film's tension revolves around Ben Stiller's Greg Focker (whose last name is in the running for 'most over-used running gag') getting the approval of Robert DeNiro's comically overbearing patriarch.
The film plays like a long sitcom - specifically, an episode of "Frasier". The meeting of the title starts predictably enough with several awkward conversations but mounts into a tangled web of lies and embarrassment. Absolutely nothing goes Greg's way, and in fact the circumstances conspire to humiliate him as completely as possible. Greg is so disgraced in the film that it becomes difficult to imagine any relationships surviving the turmoil. The biggest relationship in question may be that of Greg and his girlfriend Pam (Teri Polo).
Whenever Greg takes one of his many wrong turns in the film, Pam just watches it happen. She is not an ally so much as a bystander. But this is an unfortunate side effect of a high concept comedy like this - the characters become functions of their situations. In fact, it is never really clear where the attraction is between Pam and Greg except that they're so darn cute together.
But really, the film rides on the pairing of Mr. Stiller and Mr. DeNiro and the men are both extremely comfortable in their respective roles. If Mr. Stiller isn't careful he's going to get typecast playing the hapless, put-upon hero. It's a skill he has been perfecting in films such as "Flirting with Disaster" and "There's Something About Mary", to the latter of which "Meet the Parents" owes a great deal. Mr. Stiller has honed his neurotic reactions into fine, subtle twitches - to the point that he sometimes doesn't need to move at all. Mr. DeNiro, who showed somewhat self-conscious comic flair in the recent "Analyze This", finally relaxes into a fine comedic performance akin to his role in 1988's wonderful "Midnight Run".
Rounding out the cast is Blythe Danner, who escapes unscathed as Pam's flighty mother, and Owen Wilson as an oddly contrived ex-fiancée character.
Director Jay Roach of the "Austin Powers" films keeps the pace brisk, and the script by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg ably piles the pratfalls ludicrously high. And of course, the omnipresent Farrelly brothers' spirit is felt, as in most recent Hollywood comedies, during the film's most outrageous gags. Why, for instance, must every one of Greg's jokes fall on total silence? Does this ever really happen? Have these people never heard of a polite chuckle? But maybe the point isn't to believe that this situation could possibly happen, maybe the point is to take comfort in the fact that real life could never be this bad.