Meet the Parents

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

MEET THE PARENTS

5/10

US 2000
dir Jay Roach
scr Jim Herzfeld, John Hamburg (story by Greg Glienna, Mary Ruth Clarke)
cin Peter James
stars Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner
108mins

Roach, responsible for the manic Austin Powers movies, wisely slows down for this relatively genteel, relatively dark comedy of manners. There are belly laughs, but Meet The Parents – a remake of a little-seen 1992 picture – is more concerned with striking an edgily comic balance between sly humour and excruciating awkwardness.

Male nurse Greg (Stiller) is about to propose to his girlfriend Pam (Polo), but finds out his stuffy in-laws, whom he’s never met, expect him to ask them for permission before popping the question. Arriving at their pristine home, Greg finds Pam’s mother Dina (Danner) warmly welcoming, but daddy Jack (De Niro) is a forbiddingly stern, aggressively inquisitive character, ferociously protective of his daughter and highly suspicious of Greg’s motives and habits.

Over the course of what turns into a weekend from hell, the well-meaning Greg discovers Jack is a recently retired CIA agent, and the resulting pressures see him commit increasingly disastrous faux pas. Most of these gags are signalled well in advance, but they’re faultlessly executed. As soon as we see an urn of Jack’s mother’s ashes on a mantelpiece, for example, we know it’s going to smash – and, through Greg’s clumsiness, it soon does, a cat then suddenly appearing to relieve himself on what he takes to be a new litter tray.

Roach takes a standard sitcom premise and profitably tweaks it a couple of notches towards absurdity, aided by a thoroughly game, well-chosen cast. The film’s stroke of genius is introducing Kevin, Pam’s impossibly perfect former fiance. Owen Wilson plays the role totally straight, and, as in The Haunting and Shanghai Noon, steals a movie from under the stars’ noses. He’s so enjoyable, in fact, that the movie definitely loses some of its edge when he vanishes from view roughly halfway through – a rare miscalculation in a slick, sharp, funny mainstream picture.

  

2nd February 2001