Greg wants nothing more than to ask his girlfriend Pam to marry him. He's all set to do just that when he finds out that he's going to have to ask permission from her father first. This sets the ball rolling for Greg to embark on the weekend of his life. Unfortunately this ball, in the person of Robert De Niro, rolls right over Greg, smashing him flat.
Greg, played with great regular guy angst by Ben Stiller, becomes the embodiment of Murphy's Law. Anything that can go wrong does, and Greg, along with the audience, has no choice but to hang on for the ride. I'd really hate to be Greg, but it's a blast for the audience. Meet the Parents is one hilarious predicament after another. Sometimes you can't even catch your breath before the next one hits. Ben Stiller is the perfect actor to play this role. Ben does well in the "I can't believe this is really happening" mode, but what's funniest is when he finally lets loose. Robert De Niro, not exactly known for his comedy, is also very good in his role as the ex-CIA/rare flower dealer dad, Jack Byrnes. De Niro draws on his vast inventory of heavies and comes up with something more than just a caricature. This is a real guy, legitimately concerned about the welfare of his oldest daughter. He also just happens to be a real guy who is versed in interrogation, psychological warfare, and counter-intelligence. He manages to make Greg so nervous that everything he does is a catastrophe. At one point, in an attempt to extricate himself from a lie, Greg actually claims to have milked a cat. De Niro, who has trained the family cat, Mr. Jinx, to do everything but flush the toilet, is not amused. This kind of thing happens over the whole weekend. The rest of the cast is first-rate and serves to help Greg along on his spiral down to Hell.
Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) meets Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) in Universal's Meet The Parents - 2000
Unlike other recent comedies like Scary Movie or There's Something About Mary, this movie isn't gross or mean spirited. It's nice to go to a movie and not have to feel like you're being assaulted by some of the humor. Mary, another Stiller vehicle, really hits the mark, but at the expense of viewers who have little tolerance for gross-out humor. This movie is able to maintain the same level of comedy, but keeps it out of the gutter.
Meet the Parents is directed by Jay Roach, of Austin Powers fame, and is produced by De Niro. The two had originally envisioned Jim Carrey in the role played by Stiller. Luckily, Carrey dropped out, making room for Ben. I like Jim Carrey, but this would have been a completely different film with him, and not near as funny. De Niro and Stiller play off each other superbly, and Roach is able to hold the whole, wild mess together perfectly. There are a few plot points that feel a bit strained, but overall the whole thing works.
A note about Owen Wilson, who plays the ex-fiance to Stiller's true love: he is really funny. Last seen in Shanghai Noon, an uncharacteristically big role for him, he's been knocking about doing small roles in big movies for a while (Armageddon, The Haunting), outshining co-stars like Ben Affleck, Bruce Willis and Liam Neeson. His character is just about perfect, too. Of course, De Niro loves him, and this does nothing to ease Greg's stress. I'd like to go back and see the movie again, if only for Wilson's scenes.
One of the best things about Meet the Parents is that the funniest parts of the movie are not in the preview. Don't you hate to go see a movie and be really pumped because the preview looked so good, and then have the movie be a piece of junk? That happens way too often these days, and I think it's because Hollywood producers are running out of ideas. They get one or two good scenes, throw those in the preview, and then pray that people won't tell their friends what a terrible movie it was. Luckily, there's no chance of that here. Meet the Parents is truly hilarious, and if word of mouth works the way it should, before long we'll be meeting the sequel. Grade: A-
Meet the Parents is rated PG-13 for mild language.
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