Meet the Parents (12)
NO-ONE plays awkward better than Ben Stiller, and in Meet the Parents he tries soooo hard to impress Robert De Niro’s humourless, ultra-conservative father that the build-up to the inevitable comic climax is as funny as what comes.
Greg Focker (Stiller) is madly in love with Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo). When his plan to pop the question is unexpectedly thwarted, he reckons the next best way to do the right thing is via her father. If her dad, a retired horticulturist, gives his approval, Greg is home and dry.
Or so he thinks.
Pam’s father, Jack, doesn’t have a funny bone in his body, and when Greg, eager to please, arrives at the palatial home Jack shares with his wife, Dina, (Blythe Danner) armed with presents and good humour, Jack is not impressed.
The awkwardness builds further during a strained dinner party when Greg’s jokes fall flat and he manages, quite innocently, to scatter Jack’s beloved mother’s ashes on the floor with a shot from an inadvertently well aimed champagne cork.
It gets worse, and the more Greg tries to please, the more Jack dislikes him. When Jack is eventually revealed as an ex-CIA agent, things can’t possibly go more wrong, but events build further to make Greg’s weekend the most disastrous of his life.
The sheer sadistic joy of Meet the Parents is not so much borne of watching De Niro’s straight-faced antics but instead seeing Stiller squirm uncontrollably. The movie is packed with superb observational humour combined with sight gags, one liners and finely-tuned performances to rival some of the best escalating scenarios of Laurel and Hardy.
De Niro’s deadpan delivery and dead-eyed stare perfectly complement Stiller’s desperate, wannabe son-in-law – a man named Focker who can’t seem to do anything right.
There is a priceless moment in a car where De Niro listens intently to Puff the Magic Dragon, slowly simmering as Stiller explains it’s not really a children’s fable at all but really about smoking dope, and myriad others – the best is a sequence involving a lie detector – which pile on the giggles.
At one point an increasingly desperate Greg announces: “I lived on a farm. I once milked a cat. I can milk anything with nipples,” to which Jack responds “I have nipples. Can you milk me?”
The magic in this movie is in the unlikely double-act of De Niro and Stiller – a comic partnership to rival anything in recent years, with each perfectly balancing the other.
There is genuine interplay between them, though more than anything it proves Stiller’s mastery of the comedic medium: surely no-one else could have galvanised De Niro’s sense of humour so skilfully.
Meet the Parents combines bad taste with all the cringe-worthy real-life experiences which can – and often do – happen when everything needs to go right. in the hands of director Jay (Austin Powers) Roach, it emerges as a triumph. I doubt De Niro will ever do anything funnier. Stiller, on the other hand, looks set to go on and on and on.
Definitely the funniest movie of the year.