Robert De Niro is really making a name for himself as a comedic actor. It seems inevitable that a movie star of DeNiro’s stature, known for gangster and tough guy roles, would want to expand into other avenues to prolong his career. After all, you can only play a certain type of character for so long before people get tired of it. DeNiro was smart and began choosing parts that helped him to expand. The first De Niro comedy that I can recall was Mad Dog and Glory, where De Niro played a lonely and shy cop who falls for a prostitute sent to him as a gift by a gangster whose life he saved. De Niro continued with Analyze This, playing the same kind of gangster roles he’s played before, but with a comedic twist.
Meet The Parents is a movie you’d never think to cast De Niro in. De Niro plays Jack, the father of Pam (Teri Polo), and an ex-CIA agent who terrorizes his son-in-law-to-be Greg (Ben Stiller) when Pam brings Greg home for her sister’s wedding. Jack obviously doesn’t like Greg, not really because of anything Greg is or isn’t, but because he’s with his daughter, who Jack doesn’t think anyone is good enough for. Nothing unusual here. Fathers with any sense of devotion to their daughters always think this. Through a series of misunderstandings, coincidences, and bad timing on Greg’s part, Greg finds himself in the dog house with not only Jack, but with Pam and the rest of her family. Can Greg change the bad opinions about him and marry Pam, or will he have to fly back home alone and a broken man?
I really had little expectations going into Meet The Parents. The movie didn’t appeal to me, and I found the premise to be lukewarm at best. I am not a moviegoer who flocks to comedies, and so I was pleasantly surprised when Meet The Parents had me rolling in the aisles. It is, in a word, funny. De Niro’s interaction with the nervous Greg is perfectly acted by both men, as we realize Jack is testing and prodding and pushing Greg with every word, every sentence, and every seemingly innocent question. Everything is geared toward shoving Greg out of Pam’s life. Blythe Danner plays Pam’s mother, Dina, the perfect mellow counterpart to Jack’s high-strung, suspicious ex-CIA man. And if you don’t think Jack’s background as a former spy comes in handy, wait until you see the polygraph scene. It is a riot.
Meet The Parents was directed by Jay Roach, best known for the Austin Powers movies. Roach must have known that he had a great script to work from and some excellent actors on hand because his direction, though sure handed, is very unobtrusive. The camera is always perfectly placed, as is the case in the scene when Jack shows Greg a teddy bear — well, it’s a little hard to explain, but trust me, it’s one of the movie’s funnier and subtle moments. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.
Another running gag involves Greg’s last name, which looks like it can be pronounced by a certain 6-letter word beginning with “f” and ending with “er.” And then there’s the revelation that Greg’s given first name is actually Gaylord, and you’ll burst out laughing when a character puts Greg’s given first name together with his last name. Hilarious.
This isn’t to say the movie is perfect. It does fall apart at the end. Throughout the movie we’ve seen Greg be ruthlessly taken apart by the smart Jack, and then suddenly Jack has a change of heart. I’m pretty sure this isn’t ruining anything for those who haven’t seen the movie yet, since this is the most clich’ ending you will ever find in a Your-Dad-Hates-Me comedy — invariably toward the end the Dad will always warm up to the Hero. There’s no difference here. The ending is not very funny, is a little hard to swallow, and even a little sappy and too sudden of a shift in motivations by everyone that it rings false.
Still, Meet The Parents has enough funny moments before its sappy ending to make this film a winner. And if you should ever find yourself in your soon-to-be-wife’s parent’s house, be sure not to break her sister’s nose, don’t lose her family cat, don’t bring a joint along with you, and definitely don’t set her sister’s wedding on fire.
Jay Roach (director) / Greg Glienna, Mary Ruth Clarke, James Herzfeld, John Hamburg (screenplay)
CAST: Robert De Niro …. Jack Byrnes
Ben Stiller …. Greg
Teri Polo …. Pamela
Blythe Danner …. Dina Byrnes