If you've ever walked out of a movie with an inherently funny premise and disgustedly said, "The only funny parts were in the commercial," then have I got a movie for you.
Unlike many comedies which make the least of a great concept and cast, (or like Robert DeNiro's last funny movie in which he terrorizes a nebbishy everyman, "Analyze This," but which loses steam half way through) "Meet the Parents" makes full use of not only its premise, but every single comic situation it raises.
In order to show all the "funny parts" of this perfectly executed comedy, the trailer for this 1 hour and 48 minute movie would have to be about an hour and a half long. Not only is "Meet the Parents" short on filler, the jokes on the way to the biggest laughs are better than most movies settle for in their comic payoffs.
Ben Stiller plays Greg Focker, (and yes, a running gag is made of his last name, which some might feel stretches the PG-13 rating a bit) who is about to propose to his girlfriend, the lovely Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo). He finds out that her demanding father expects to be consulted first, so he decides to ask the old man when they travel to Connecticut for Pam's sister's wedding.
The only phrase that men fear more than "better off as friends" just may be "meet my parents," and this comedy is like the nightmare before the big day.
Within minutes of his arrival at the Byrnes house, Greg manages to insult the beloved family pet-- a Himalayan cat, become overly defensive about his job as a male nurse, insults Jack Byrnes's (DeNiro) new business of selling hidden cameras, and his gift of a rare flower bulb is a direct test of Jack Byrnes's cover. You see, Jack is not a retired florist as everyone is told, but a retired CIA interrogator.
"I was scared of your dad when I thought he was a florist!" Greg exclaims, "Now I've got a CIA spycatcher on my [butt]!"
Greg's night goes from bad to much worse, with a hilarious dinner scene in which the Jewish Greg cribs his grace before the meal from "Godspell," and the two things Jack gets the most emotional about-- his mother's ashes and the family cat-- get to meet each other.
And the night's not over yet-- "This is an antique polygraph, Greg. Try it out, just for fun." Soon Greg's answer to everything-- whether he's hooked up or not-- becomes, "Yes, NO! I mean yes."
Greg is so desperate to overcome his bad first impression and prove himself worthy of fair Pamela's hand, that his actions begin to justify Byrnes's natural doubts. Suspicion becomes all-out psychological warfare with screamingly funny results, before the two men finally come to an understanding that both really love Pam.
Besides the two perfect leads, "Meet the Parents" is filled with inspired casting. Blythe Danner is great as Mrs. Brynes, combining warmth, common sense and hysteria in shaded doses; and Owen Wilson is very funny as the irritatingly perfect, unbelievably successful, ex-boyfriend that Jack openly prefers for his daughter. Even small roles like store clerks and-- especially-- airport employees, are filled memorably. Teri Polo is winsome as Pam, in the one completely straight role that everyone else plays off of, though there's not much more to her character.
"Meet the Parents" is a finely constructed farce in classic style, not a daring dark satire like "Neighbors" or "War of the Roses"-- but it's also about a hundred times as funny. Think of the great meet the family scene in "Annie Hall," played out to feature length, but more Howard Hawks than Woody Allen.
This is that rare movie that is broadly appealing, but not dumbed down. Those with sophisticated sensibilities will laugh just as loudly as lovers of slapstick, as director Jay Roach ("Austin Powers") cleverly combines both elements. And while this is not a movie for the whole family, it's hard not to appreciate the care the film makers took to keep this out of R-rated territory but using deflection, instead of all-out crudeness.
Some warnings: First, don't go to this movie if you've recently had hernia surgery, because the expression "bust a gut laughing" might go beyond metaphor in your case. And for any teenage boys out there who are thinking of coming calling at our house, I just want you to know I kind of LIKED the antique polygraph idea.