Meet The Parents

For anyone seriously in love, meeting the in-laws can be a traumatic experience. Will they like me? Will they hate me? What will they like about me? Am I good enough? The heightened sense of expectation can turn common, ordinary in-laws into monsters.

meettheparentspictureNow take that feeling and magnify it about ten times. That’s the microscope poor Greg Focker is under when he agrees to accompany his girlfriend home for her sister’s wedding. His worst fears are realized when he meets her father: Robert De Niro.

Welcome to “Meet The Parents,” a riotous comedy so perfectly realized that it keeps you under its spell even when it reaches levels of absurdity. All of the elements of grand entertainment are in place: a crafty screenplay, snappy direction, and a winning cast headed up by De Niro as the suspicious in-law.

Despite his tough guy persona on the big screen, I suspect that Robert De Niro is genuinely funny at parties. There’s something about De Niro mugging that makes me laugh. When he and Joe Pesci showed up on “Saturday Night Live” to put an end to “The Joe Pesci Show” skit, I wondered why De Niro didn’t do more comedy.

“Analyze This” found De Niro spoofing his big screen persona, proving that he was not only capable of being funny, but had amazing comic timing.

“Meet The Parents” seals the deal. De Niro is terrific. You almost forget this is the same man who starred in “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.” Pitted against Ben Stiller as the new guy in his daughter’s life, De Niro displays great comic chops. Here’s a man who loves his daughters so much that he’s willing to go the distance when it comes to the men in their lives.

That includes strapping them up to a lie-detector machine, hiding hidden cameras throughout the house, and forgetting to mention that he’s not really a retired florist but an ex-CIA agent. This isn’t so much a revelation as a device to force Stiller’s Greg to jump through some unexpected hoops.

While the premise is pretty basic, it’s those hoops that provide most of the laughs. The harder Greg tries to please Jack (De Niro), the worse his situation becomes. We know Greg loves Pam (a luminous Teri Polo) enough to jump through the hoops. When the film opens, we watch as Greg goes through the motions to propose to Pam. He even recruits her students to spell out Marry Me Pam with placards. This sweet moment in interrupted when Pam learns her sister Debbie is getting married.

Putting his proposal on hold, Greg agrees to go home with Pam for the weekend for Debbie’s wedding and to get Jack’s approval. Things only go downhill from there. While Pam’s mother Dina (Blythe Danner) takes to Greg, Jack is instantly suspicious. While no man is good enough for Pam, Jack doesn’t think this male nurse is even a contender.

And so it goes for one wild, crazy and laugh-filled weekend as poor Greg makes every misstep known to mankind. Stiller’s interaction with the family is priceless. Watch as he takes a simple bit of business and makes it complex. When Stiller and De Niro share the screen together, they create a comic wildfire that literally heats up the screen.

The pitch of Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg’s screenplay is feverishly funny. These guys don’t just go for the jugular, they gnaw through the spinal cord and go right for the funny bone. They tickled mine for nearly two hours. The gags come so fast they’re almost deadly.

Director Jay Roach does a splendid job of making sure they all hit their target, and his aim is extremely accurate. Like with his “Austin Powers” films, Roach has an uncanny knack of turning the obvious into something unique. It also helps to have extremely talented people in front of the camera.

There isn’t a bad performance in the film, from Danner’s compassionate mother to Owen Wilson’s hilarious turn as Pam’s former boyfriend who hits it big on Wall Street. They all lend a distinctive voice to the film, especially when it comes to pronouncing Greg’s last name. It’s a testament to the artistry of the performers that they’re able to keep this running joke alive and fresh.

“Meet The Parents” looks sharp, and features a bouncy Randy Newman score that captures the spirit of the film. Stiller continues his reign as one of Hollywood’s most loveable comedy leading men, while De Niro has found a new niche. Here’s hoping he takes advantage of it.


De Niro is lethally funny in outrageous comedy


Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo, Owen Wilson in a film directed by Jay Roach. 108 Minutes. Rated PG-13.


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