This was the movie, along with Analyze This, that convinced the world that Robert De Niro could be very funny. People seemed to be completely oblivious to the fact that De Niro was really just playing caricatures of the tough guy roles he had perfected during his time making dramas. Despite this oversight, it cannot be denied that De Niro does have some great comedic timing, and really good chemistry with Ben Stiller.
Stiller plays Greg, a male nurse who wants to propose to his main squeeze Pamela (Teri Polo). Her sister has just got engaged and the groom made a big song and dance about how he asked Pam’s dad for permission before popping the question. Realising that this nice bit of traditionalism may make him accepted into the family easier, Greg decides to put off his proposal until he can get her dad Jack’s (DeNiro) permission. Turns out Jack is the scariest person known to man, and instantly dislikes Greg because he feels a male nurse is nowhere near good enough for his eldest daughter. Jack sets out to uncover whatever secrets are in Greg’s closet, a task made easier by the fact that Jack is a former CIA agent and has access to all kinds of personal records the average Joe doesn’t. All Greg wants to do is impress his future father-in-law, but his good intentions constantly go astray leading to all kinds of comical misunderstandings.
This film does get a lot of mileage out of two or three jokes told over and over again throughout the film. Much is made of Greg’s last name (Focker) and how it sounds like a rude word. Greg’s occupation as a nurse is also constantly derided, and Jack is always seen as a scary father-in-law. These three jokes are used wherever possible, but for whatever reason, they never get tired.
It was nice to see De Niro try comedy. He is one of the few dramatic actors that has made a name for himself in another genre, which I really admire. It would have been so easy for him to get stale playing the same mob boss role over and over, and waiting for the Oscar nominations to come, but he took a risk that really paid off. It really does help that he stars opposite a seasoned comedy pro like Stiller (and Billy Crystal for Analyze This), I’m not sure DeNiro could have carried all of the comedic weight on his own. He is a lot of fun as the scary father-in-law from hell, though.
Meet the Parents is like a car crash– you can’t look away. Everything Greg does to try and get on Jack’s good side almost always ends up blowing up in his face. Seeing Stiller go from mild mannered nurse to aggravated future son-in-law is a treat, and Stiller plays both sides of the character really well. I also enjoyed Owen Willson’s small cameo as one of Pam’s exes.
Meet the Parents is one of the funniest comedies ever made. I’ve watched this at least a dozen times and still find myself laughing out loud. Not only is this movie based on a timeless premise, but the all-star cast delivers every ridiculous line to perfection.
Ben Stiller is Gaylord “Greg” Focker, a nurse who is meeting his girlfriend Pam’s (Teri Polo) family for the first time. Everything that could go wrong for Greg does, from the small inconvenience of having the airline lose his luggage to bigger disasters like nearly destroying Pam’s sister’s wedding. Of course, everything is made worse by Pam’s overbearing father, Jack (Robert De Niro). I love comedies like this that take a simple idea and go as big as possible with the story. Who hasn’t stressed over meeting their partner’s parents for the first time? While some of Greg’s choices are questionable (he lies– a lot), you understand his desire to please his girlfriend’s dad.
The cast of Meet the Parents is what really makes it special. Ben Stiller is a hit-or-miss actor for me, but I love him here. He is the king of awkward, making it impossible to look away even during his most cringeworthy moments. Too often comedians are cast opposite much younger actresses with supermodel looks, but Teri Polo is a perfect match for Stiller. Her character is mostly a non-comedic one, providing much needed balance to Stiller’s crazy antics. Blythe Danner plays Pam’s mother in another non-comedic role, but Danner is still delightful. She is the level-headed counterpart to Robert De Niro’s humorless Jack Byrnes. This is an over-the-top role much as Stiller’s is, and it’s fun watching these two men go head to head vying for Pam’s loyalty.
This movie also benefits from having a lot of quotable dialogue. An obvious favorite is De Niro deadpanning, “I have nipples, Greg, could you milk me?” (this gets quoted by my family more often than you’d think), but I also love Greg’s awkward attempt at saying grace before dinner (he basically paraphrases a song from Godspell) and his freak out on an airplane. There are just so many funny moments here, that I am often caught off guard by lines I had completely forgotten about.
Meet the Parents is an excellent character driven comedy with a cast to match. It’s hard to believe this film is 15 years old, because it still feels as fresh as ever.