66 – Meet the Parents

I know, I know, the movie made a mint. But those of you who have read my reviews for a while know that I don’t always go with the opinions of the masses.

Meet the Parents is about young male nurse Greg Focker (the ever-constipated Ben Stiller) meeting the parents of his girlfriend Pam (Teri Polo), played by Robert DeNiro and Blythe Danner and what happens during the weekend he spends with her family.

The first thing you have to do before watching this movie is decide whether you like Stiller or not. My take on Stiller is that he’s an acquired taste, at best. If you find him acceptable as an actor, then watch the film. If you don’t, skip it. It’s his usual collage of overacting and whining.

Still with me? Ok, so you tolerate Stiller. Many seem to. I just can’t. But beyond that, what you have is one of those farces that takes misunderstanding after misunderstanding and builds them into a huge denouement. Many slighter comedies have done this, usually replete with door-slamming, people stomping off huffily, etc.

This one includes a lot of funny tragedies (in that since they’re on film, they’re funny, and no one’s really, really hurt), such as a spray-painted cat, a burned, newly sculpted altar, lost luggage, a fire, and a litany of misstatements and embarrassing situations.

At the core of all of this is Jack, Pam’s dad (DeNiro). Jack’s an ex-CIA guy, and Pam’s his little girl. DeNiro is always intimidating anyway, and casting him as the father seemed like a good idea at the time. But DeNiro is to comedy as Stallone is to comedy – at least in this film. In Analyze This, DeNiro was a lot better, a lot more in his own element. Here, the lines he reads seem forced, stilted, and flat-out unfunny. Jack puts Greg through the paces, including a polygraph test.

DeNiro tries, and I give him credit for trying something a little different, but for me it’s a failed experiment. He just doesn’t seem comfortable in this movie. I don’t know if it’s the material, the lack of cursing, or the slapstick quotient, but for some reason DeNiro seems about as effective here as Yogi Berra was as a third baseman: like putting up a pup tent in a windstorm. Thanks, Bob, but no thanks.

Stiller is Stiller. I’m convinced we’ll never see anything beyond the shallow nervousness he shows us now. He’s never shown as a strong guy, always with a spot of jerkiness around him. Maybe he’s typecast, but the way he played Greg made the character seem like a not-altogether-likeable weasel. He just seems sneaky. Doubtless any number of actors could have done a far better job.

As can be expected from slapstick films, there’s a lot of misunderstandings, then lies to cover up the misunderstandings, and so forth. Some of the moments are genuinely funny (“Yeah… you can milk anything with nipples..”), but you’ve already seen most of them in the trailer.

Meet the Parents: 6

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