Meet the Parents

Greg (Ben Stiller) is literally on his bended knee mid-proposal to his girlfriend Pam (Teri Polo) when she gets a call from her sister, who has just got engaged and is due to get married in the immediate future, as in a couple of weeks away. Pam casually remarks that her father puts a lot of stead in the tradition of the potential bride’s father being asked prior to the question being popped, so Greg pockets the ring and plans to ask said father when they visit Pam’s family home for her sister’s wedding. However, the visit does not go necessarily according to Greg’s plans, and it’s all exacerbated by the fact that Pam’s father Jack (Robert DeNiro) is not a retired rare flower expert as she has told Greg, but is a former psychological profiler for the CIA, who is very protective of his first born child.
Meet-The-Parents-1There have been many times during this 1001 Movies challenge when I’ve wondered precisely why a film has been added to this usually prestigious list, but none more so when I discovered Meet the Parents had been added. Granted, it was added shortly after its release and removed relatively quickly after being added, and it was according to Wikipedia the 7th highest grossing film of the year 2000, but lets not ignore that the next three higher grossing films were What Women Want, Dinosaur and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, bizarrely none of which made it onto any list I’m going through. Meet the Parents had been removed before the copy of the book that I own, so I can’t even check to see the reasoning behind its inclusion, but I can only assume it’s to recognise and possibly even celebrate this later era of De Niro’s career, in which he has embraced his comedic side and ventured into family-friendly humorous fare. If that is why it has been included, then they may as well add the first Scary Movie film onto the list as well, for heralding in the era of shitty attempts at parody movies, for being the tip of a seemingly never-ending iceberg of mediocrity.
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I think once upon a time I may have liked this film. I certainly remember going to see the first sequel, Meet the Fockers, in the cinema with at least my Dad, if not the entire family, and based on that movie I’ve never seen Little Fockers, and I hope that status never changes. What I saw in the film back when I was 17 (when the sequel was released) I just can’t say, because now I think it’s a waste of pretty much everything.
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It begins with what must have been a tired gag even the second time it was ever used, probably back in the early 1900s, with our lead proposing to an off screen character who, it turns out, isn’t his intended fiancé but a friend of his whom he’s practising on. Ha ha ha, isn’t that hilarious? And alas, every joke in this film has been done somewhere else, and presumably better. The main running joke throughout the entire saga is that the main character’s surname is Fokker. Get it? It sounds like a swear word. Guffaws all round. The one element to do with this that might have been funny is that his intended bride’s middle name is Martha, so her name will eventually be Pamela Martha Fokker, which sounds like another swear word! Ha! But the delivery of this is so trodden on and mis-timed that it falls utterly flat and is almost ignored.
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What boggles my mind is how much of this movie has entered the public lexicon. In Bad Neighbours last year, there’s a mention of a Robert De Niro party, with one character instantly recognisable as having dressed up as his character from here, complete with intense squint and cradling a stuffed cat. This character should not be that recognisable. I should not remember anything about the Circle of Trust, or the two-finger-to-one-finger gesture of “I’m watching you.” No-one should. And yet most of us do, and I simply cannot explain it.
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The film’s only saving grace is the supporting cast. Blythe Danner, as Pam’s mother and Jack’s wife, is a hoot, always being super-positive, sing-songy and seeing her children as basically still being little kids. Also, Owen Wilson, as Pam’s ex Kevin, plays a character that could so easily come off as a royal dickhead – think Bradley Cooper in Wedding Crashers – but he plays him as just the nicest guy in the world, and the role is so much the better for it. And James Rebhorn as the father of Pam’s sister’s fiancée is just terrific, The guy is great in anything, and I think this was one of the first roles I remembered him from.
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Story-wise it plays like a series of poorly strung together sketches, with elements added in from scene to scene that plausibly would have been referenced beforehand, such as Pam’s younger, pot-smoking brother Denny (Jon Abrahams) who turns out to be a major character but isn’t introduced until almost an hour in. Elsewhere, this seems to want to almost mock some standard romcom clichés, yet instead just rides along with them, such as the last minute run to the airport to save true love. Blurgh.

If anybody can explain to me why this is on The List, by all means do so. As for me, I have simply no explanation whatsoever.

Choose Life 4/10

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10 thoughts on “Meet the Parents

  1. I’ve no clue why this is on the list. That said, I so enjoy it and even liked Meet the Fockers. The third one was just beyond awful.

    You mentioned something interesting: how much of this movie has entered public lexicon. For me, while I acknowledge it’s not great, it does speak to the movie being somehow better than the sum of it’s cliched parts and even to the performance of De Niro himself. I think it’s his best comedic work. That’s without having seen either of the Analyze movies, but I think he’s great, here. Of course, it’s entirely possible we’re all just easy marks. I’m cool with that.

    Bottom line is I like it a good deal, but its not something you need to see before you die.

    • I suppose it’s not technically out-and-out comedy, but De Niro’s work in King of Comedy is probably what I’d deem his funniest, but for completely different reasons.

  2. Yeah…not a fan. Nothing spoils a comedy for me like knowing what the joke is going to be before the punchline hits.

    Case in point–at the start of the film, we know that the engagement ring Greg has is in the bag he’s trying to carry on. The bag has to be checked. I knew in that moment that the bag would be lost by the airline. When it was, no laugh. I knew it was coming.

    You know what would’ve been a better joke? He arrives at the airport. He gets the bag, and the ring has been stolen by someone who works for the airline. Same basic joke, different payoff. That would’ve made me laugh.

    • Predictability is surely the ultimate enemy of comedy, and this movie has it in spades. Pretty much anything that is introduced in the movie is there to go wrong for Stiller’s character, so as soon as you realise this it’s just a case of waiting for catastrophe to strike.

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  4. I was a big fan of this movie when it first came out, a lesser extent with the sequel, and never watched the third. I think it is a film of its time that really hit what needed to be hit when it came out, though it hasn’t held up over time. That and the sequels don’t help as they take all the good jokes and make them feel much more tired. I still on occasion do the pointing at my eyes gesture to my daughter when she’s doing something she shouldn’t be doing or have the Jinxie cat song pop into my head, usually with the “Jinxie cat” replaced with whatever I happen to be looking at or thinking of at the time. I definitely won’t fault you for not enjoying it, but I really like it.

    • I can’t even remember the Jinxie cat song, sorry. I can’t fault people for liking it either, as I said I used to like it myself, but it didn’t hold up for me comedically, which for a comedy is pretty important.

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