Meet the Parents is ludicrous but funny
By Peter Heidenreich
By Peter Heidenreich
e e 1/2
Jay Roach, director
Greg Glienna, Mary Ruth Clarke, James Herzfeld & John Hamburg, screenwriters & storywriters
Runtime: 107 minutes; Rated: PG-13
Now on video
Truly great comedies are those that can set up their gags without forcing them. His Girl Friday, for example, allows one joke to flow to the next in a fluid, naturalistic way (to say nothing about Cary Grants staggeringly hilarious performance). Meet the Parents, on the other, hand is contrived from beginning to end. Nonetheless, it is not without its moments, and the film as a whole is still entertaining, despite how ridiculous it is.
Ben Stiller plays Greg Fokker, a man hopelessly in love with his girlfriend, Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo). Determined to propose to her and soon be married, Greg must first meet with the approval of her father, Jack Byrnes, played by Robert De Niro. Jack, though a loving father, is overprotective of his daughter and runs Greg through every test possible to ferret out the worthiness of his daughters soon-to-be husband. Greg, for his part, does everything he can to win the affections of Jack, but, of course, the strength of his good intentions is inversely proportional to the severity of the domestic upheaval he creates. Not only does he mess things up, he messes them up royally.
What I found most appealing about Meet the Parents was the subtlety of Stillers performance. He is not breaking any new ground in this film. In fact, Stiller plays all his roles pretty much the same in every film. But that style is quite humorous. Much of the film consists of Stillers character trying to weasel his way out of predicament after predicament. And with every outlandish story he weaves, his nervous charm becomes more and more infectious. By the end, the viewer is torn between wishing more trouble on Greg in order to see him work his way out of it, and almost feeling sorry for the poor guy. I say almost because Meet the Parents is just so over the top, none of the situations can be taken seriously.
Also putting in a strong performance is the always reliable Robert De Niro. Though best known for his dramatic work, De Niro is such an accomplished actor that he seems to fit perfectly in every role he chooses. In Meet the Parents, he is not really given much to work with, but De Niro still manages to give life to an otherwise flat character. For those De Niro fans who want to see him perform a truly unique role, check out Terry Gilliams apocalyptic masterpiece Brazil. Dark and disturbing, Brazil also incorporates a bitingly satirical sense of humor, especially De Niros character in the film: a freelance terrorist garbage man! A must see.
All in all, Meet the Parents is a good film to rent for mindless, ridiculous comedy. If the viewer lets herself enjoy it in much the same way she would enjoy a Three Stooges short, it will not disappoint. However, be prepared for an escalating barrage of situations that will either make you laugh or just grate on your nerves.