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MEET THE PARENTS

Directed by Jay Roach (2000, Dreamworks)
Starring Robert DeNiro, Ben Stiller, Teri Polo, and Blythe Danner

A man meets with disaster when he visits for the first time the parents of the woman he wants to marry.

 

 

2 stars

March 9th, 2001 in the Theatre  
    A surprisingly ineffective story, with very many absolutely hilarious moments.

I don't really know why this movie inspired such a dual reaction in me. I was not in a terrific mood before the movie started, so that could explain the low rating. I think one extra star could have been added if I had been in a silly mood. Throughout much of it, I was laughing incessantly. And those moments were truly funny. Unfortunately, it features a "hero" who digs himself deeper than any movie should have let him, his girlfriend was a clueless, unsympathetic person, and her father never received the grounding that he should have in this type of movie.

The jokes about Greg Focker's name were funny the first time ("How do you pronounce your last name" "Just the way it's spelled..."), but they wore thin way too quickly. I liked the way Greg dug himself into his hole, but it went on for too long. Just when you thought he would be redeemed, he gets in even deeper. And by that point, it is no longer funny. Somewhere along the lines, my guffaws turned into chuckles, and those turned into short smiles. I was getting impatient. 

Greg's problem is that he wants to impress everybody. And he can't do that by being himself. The best scene in the whole movie occurs right at the beginning, with his ingenious way of proposing to his girlfriend, Pam. The kids in her class all have letters to carry to the window, spelling out (after some switching of positions) "Marry Me Pam". But the phone rings before she turns around to see the message. Her younger sister is getting married, in a week! Naturally, Greg hears that the fiancée asked their father before proposing, and thinks this might be the way to go. Unfortunately, disaster ensues. But Greg continues after every disaster. It's not really that he's digging himself deeper into a hole, but that he digs new holes, never learning the lesson that he should be himself. Pam's father would have respected a little strength of character, I think.

Compounding this problem is Pam herself. She has lived with her father for so long, but she never gets exasperated with him, never sees anything but harmless fun where she should obviously see that Greg is extremely uncomfortable. Sure, she could have let the laughs continue, but she should have come around to Greg's side much earlier. And she certainly never should have let him leave the house that night.

Which brings me to the third problem: Pam's father never gets the stern talking-to that he needed to get for this to be a satisfying movie. I thought he was getting it (much too late for my tastes) by the time Greg revealed the secret Thailand "operation", but the reaction of the family was much too restrained, and then it was revealed that he was planning a secret honeymoon gift for the newlyweds. At the airport, when Greg finally tears into Pam's father, it isn't nearly enough, and doesn't even scathe him.

So what did I like about this movie? Most of the antics. I could see the urn joke coming from far off, but the milking of the cat story was hilarious. I loved the race from stoplight to stoplight after Pam's father finds out that the cat Greg found was not actually Mr. Jinx. That cat ended up destroying the house! I could have done without the rest of the cat subplot, except where Greg has to chase it onto the roof, where a thrown cigarette lights the roof and the altar on fire. When Pam's father opens Greg's suitcase (which turns out to be somebody else's bag from the plane), he finds lingerie, whips and chains, after Greg had told him there was something in that bag he really wanted Pam to wear (i.e.: the engagement ring). Somehow, that Speedo bathing suit looked way, way too small for him. I don't know if that was a trick of the camera, or what. (On the other hand, Pam's bikini also looked small for her, which I quite enjoyed.)

There were many more funny moments, and some of them had everybody rolling in their seats. But they were far too disconnected. The little sympathy we feel for the character at the beginning fades quickly. Unlike There's Something About Mary, which shows a character faced with bad luck that came naturally, this movie felt a little forced.

It's well worth the money to see this one, just to get the cheap laughs (which can be intensely funny). But the story and the characters needed a little more work.
 
   

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