Meet the Parents

Very few of today's comedies are actually funny. Funny typically means that the humor is either disgusting or stupid. Meet the Parents is actually funny. Granted, most of the humor is at the expense of Ben Stiller. Stiller (Keeping the Faith, Mystery Men) is great at playing the exasperated everyman. He is a perfectly normal guy stuck in a world of idiots. And nothing he can do will ever change that. No one seems to understand what is perfectly clear to him. In Meet the Parents, Stiller is Greg Focker, a man who is about to spend the worst weekend of his life with his future parents-in-law. He was ready to propose to his girlfriend Pam (Teri Polo, Felicity, Sports Night) when he finds out her sister is engaged, and her fiancee asked the permission of Pam's father. Focker learns that Pam likes this traditional gesture, so he decides to do the same.

It does not help that Pam's father is Robert De Niro. Jack (De Niro, Rocky and Bullwinkle, 15 Minutes) is an ex-CIA profiler. He is always serious, and extremely wary of anybody dating Pam. Greg believes that Jack is a rare flower dealer. Needless to say, things do not go well between Greg and Jack. They just seem like complete opposites. Greg is also a Jewish man in a wholly WASP environment. There is a concept in chaos theory that says that a butterfly flapping its wings may ultimately lead to a typhoon halfway across the world. This is also the basic idea of screenwriters Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg, remaking Greg Glienna's short film. Greg wants to ingratiate himself to Jack. Jack's very presence makes Greg extremely nervous, so he begins to tell small white lies. What he does not expect is that Jack remembers these lies, forcing Greg to invent bigger, more complex lies to cover up his little ones.

Director Jay Roach (Austin Powers 2, Mystery, Alaska) blatantly sets up jokes for the audience. In Meet the Parents, this is a good thing. Many of the larger antics are elaborately staged affairs, coming about as the result of smaller things. A simple discarded pack of cigarettes near the beginning of the film will wreak havoc later. It's also obvious when Jack tells Greg not to flush a certain toilet or not to let a cat outside, Greg at some point will, with disastrous results. The payoffs are actually worth the wait. Stiller is a great sport for putting himself through so much (man that's a tiny speedo). On the other hand, De Niro is coasting off earlier, powerful performances. He is funny here, unlike his other recent attempts at comedy. He is able to be so intimidating because people are familiar with his roles. De Niro's role is mostly grimacing and delivering lines dryly. Greg and Jack have good motivations at heart, but the way they display them is what makes Meet the Parents funny.

The supporting actors also serve as great foils. They all play with straight faces, completely oblivious to most of what is going on between Jack and Greg. Polo easily makes the transition from the small screen to the big screen, and Blythe Danner (Forces of Nature, The Love Letter) projects warm, motherly love for Pam and Greg. Owen Wilson (Shanghai Noon, The Haunting) is also very funny as Pam's perfect ex-fiancee. Another reason why Meet the Parents work is that it is the worst nightmare of many people. Everybody wants to make a good impression on future in-laws, especially Greg. People can relate to this in one way or another. Greg loves Pam, and wants her family to like him, but everything he does he ends up doing wrong. As he digs his hole deeper and deeper, he tries harder to look normal which exacerbates things, and the audience wins.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 48 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug references, and language.

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