Pity poor Greg Focker. Not only is the man employed as a male nurse with an unfortunate name, but he’s about to meet his girlfriend’s parents in order to ask dad for her hand in marriage. Only dad is about as humorless as, say, Robert De Niro. And poor Greg can’t do anything right to save his skin.
It all reminds me, with flashback-like intensity, of meeting my own father-in-law-to-be, a guy so stern he makes De Niro look like Jim Carrey. Picture Ben Stiller as Focker (or me) and De Niro as himself, and, like magic, you’ve got yourself one hell of a comedy that will see few equals this year or any other. (Note to Dr. Carder: This is just a joke that I know you’ll laugh about because we have such a great relationship! See you this Christmas!!!)
De Niro comes off surprisingly perfect as the straight man to Stiller’s streetwise doofus, equally apt in his role as the guy who will never be good enough for the girl (Teri Polo). At first we see De Niro’s Jack as a harmless but hard-nosed retiree, with Focker (a name which is repeatedly said aloud with great comic effect) doing everything in his power to make dad like him.
But as things like this typically go, nothing works out, and before long the septic tank has overflowed, a fire has been started, the other daughter’s wedding has been ruined, and an incident involving a champagne bottle, and urn, and a very naughty cat have filled your eyes with tears so thick you can’t see the screen. Which is no good, because you can’t hear anything either due to all the laughter. I literally found myself gasping for breath during Meet the Parents’ most comic moments, wishing I could rewind the film.
Ultimately, Meet the Parents is one of the funniest comedies I’ve seen since Annie Hall, a film with which it shares a wry sensibility about modern romance. Jack, his true nature revealed, is so obsessed with perfection for his daughter that he gives Greg a lie detector test about his past. Greg is so obsessed with making a good impression he spray-paints a stray cat to look like Jack’s pet when it goes missing. All of these situations are, against all expectations, utterly believable, and invariably they are hilarious. To top all that, somehow the film has been kept suitable for teens with a PG-13 rating, yet it is perfect for couples with its upbeat love story, and equally good for anyone looking for a good comedy where they can let go and yuk it up.
Director Jay Roach (of Austin Powers fame) handles the camera well, framing Focker in scenes that would be worthy of The Fugitive if they weren’t so funny. I can’t think of much in the film that isn’t done equally well. Randy Newman’s title song “A Fool in Love” should earn an Oscar nomination, along with the script and the two lead actors if there’s any justice in the world. Altogether, Meet the Parents is one of few films that I can highly recommend to anyone.
But perhaps the best part of the film is its ending, which leaves plenty of room for at least two sequels. Like me, I’m sure you’ll be hoping they decide to make them before you’re even back to the parking lot.
The new DVD release proves that this review was, for once, right on the mark. I don’t often find myself laughing myself off my chair at home screenings, but Meet the Parents is just as funny on the small screen as it was on the big one. Extras include some humorous outtakes and deleted scenes and some surprisingly tepid commentary tracks. (The new Bonus Edition adds even more outtakes.) But never mind the extras, the film is what makes this a must-have.