Meet The Parents (12)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner27/12/2000

Four out of five stars
Running time: 108 mins

Top-drawer comedy, touching on universal fears and featuring terrific comic performances from its two stars.

Ben Stiller plays the unfortunately-named Greg Focker ("pronounced just as it’s written"), a male nurse, who’s decided to ask his girlfriend Pamela Byrnes (Teri Polo) to marry him. There’s just one snag – he needs to ask her father’s permission, so they head to the Byrnes’ place to ‘meet the parents’ during the preparations for Pam’s sister’s wedding.

Unfortunately, Pam’s father (Jack) just happens to be Robert DeNiro, an ex-CIA operative who takes an instant dislike to Greg, and things quickly go from bad to worse, due to a hilarious succession of misunderstandings, escalating white lies and bouts of clumsiness. As with all great comedies, Meet The Parents works because it manages to tap into a situation that is both fraught with potential for cringe-making embarrassment, and yet instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever had to meet their partner’s parents for the first time.

It would be unfair to give away the best jokes (although the trailer does exactly that, and should be avoided for maximum enjoyment of the film), but suffice it to say that the film gets a great amount of comic mileage out of a cat, a septic tank, a heavily-laquered garden ornament, a set of lost luggage and a game of water-volleyball, not to mention an antique polygraph machine…

Director Jay Roach also made both Austin Powers movies, and proves here – away from Mike Myers – that he’s a talented comedy director in his own right. Refreshingly, in the days of the Farrelly's American Pie and Road Trip, Meet The Parents is a comedy that doesn’t rely primarily on toilet-based humour to get its laughs (though it’s by no means toilet-gag-free either). Instead the humour comes from the steady deepening of the hole Stiller gets himself into, and the escalating sense of embarrassment that goes with it, which approaches Fawlty-esque levels of cringe-worthiness.

The acting is first-rate: Stiller is both likeable and sympathetic, yet you can sense the impotent rage of frustration building inside him, providing one of the best scenes when he finally snaps. There’s great support from Polo and Blythe Danner (Gwynneth’s mum!) as her slightly ditzy mother, as well as a disappointingly brief cameo from Owen Wilson as her ‘perfect’ ex-boyfriend, who has bonded with Jack since splitting up with Pam. It’s DeNiro’s movie though, and he turns in a brilliantly comic performance, managing to be both intimidatingly scary and yet never wholly unsympathetic – as illustrated in his soppy devotion to his cat ‘Mr Jinx’ – so that when the inevitable end comes, it doesn’t seem too much of a reversal.

All you really ask of a comedy these days is that it provides the requisite amount of laughs, and on this level, Meet The Parents delivers in spades – you’re guaranteed to be chuckling away throughout, and there are several moments that will have you in stitches, whether it’s an inspired joke about Pamela’s middle name, or the spectacular Everything Goes Horribly Wrong moment of the volleyball game.

This is, unquestionably, the best comedy currently on release. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 22/10/2014 10:35

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