Meet the Parents, by Albert W. Vogt III

Once more unto the breech that is Ben Stiller films of the late 1990s and early 2000s.  I do not think anyone did more romantic comedies during this period than did he.  I have reviewed many of them.  The majority of them are your garden variety fare for this genre.  Now, I would not necessarily argue that Meet the Parents (2000) is any different from others of its ilk.  At the same time, you have to admit that when none other than Robert de Niro gets involved, there might be something special with this one.  Read on and decide for yourself.

Robert de Niro plays Jack Byrnes, one of the title pair in Meet the Parents.  Yet, we start with the unfortunately named Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Ben Stiller).  Jokes are made about this in the movie that are not worth repeating.  At any rate, he is a nurse that is about to propose to his girlfriend, Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo), a second-grade teacher.  When he is about to do so using some of her students to spell out the question, though, he is disrupted by news that her sister Debbie (Nicole DeHuff) is going to get married.  Such is Pam’s relationship with her family that Greg, despite having never met the Byrnes, decides he is going to impress them by asking for her hand in marriage in front of her family.  Sounds like a nice plan, right?  Things begin to go wrong as soon as he gets on the plane.  He has a run-in with the flight crew when his carry-on bag cannot fit into the overhead compartment.  He is forced to check it, and of course it, with the engagement ring inside, does not end up at their destination.  Already on edge, Greg must deal with a Byrnes family full of doctors that look down on a male nurse.  The toughest person to impress is Jack.  Though it is not something that Jack publicizes, he used to be an officer with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  As such, he immediately sizes Greg up as something less than a man.  Greg attempts to test these boundaries when at dinner he discovers Jack is devoted to his pet cat Jinx.  Jack responds by reminding Greg how independent are cats, thus making them hard to train to the degree that is Jinx.  Later, Jack gives Greg a polygraph test in order to get a better sense of Greg’s character, which Pam’s potential fiancé goes along with because he is still trying to impress the family.  The person that Jack really has in mind for Pam is her ex-boyfriend Kevin Rawley (Owen Wilson).  Rather awkwardly, Kevin invites all the Byrnes over to his palatial estate nearby and they play volleyball in his indoor pool.  The competitive Jack has Greg on his team, and when they start losing Jack puts the onus for their poor performance on Greg.  The resulting shot of adrenaline this gives Greg ends with Debbie being clobbered in the face by a vicious spike and getting a black eye.  This is one of a series of mostly innocent missteps that include breaking open the urn containing Jack’s mother’s ashes and Jinx peeing on them; backing up the sewage in the house when he uses the wrong toilet, even though it is Jinx (who is trained to use toilets); losing Jinx; and finally causing the gazebo in which Debbie is to be married to catch on fire.  What all this does is make it so that Greg is not in the famous Byrnes’ family circle of trust.  Pam, too, is beginning to wonder about her choice in boyfriend given the increasingly desperate lengths Greg is going to in order to gain respect.  In this way, Greg is becoming suspicious of some of Jack’s activities, thinking the former intelligence officer is still involved in espionage.  That desperation leads to Greg going to the local pet shelter to get a cat that looks like Jinx and spray painting it to look like Jinx.  For the moment, all is forgiven and Greg is a hero.  It all falls apart once more when the impostor feline makes a wreck of the inside of the house, telling Jack it is not Jinx.  As Greg is being confronted by the entire family, his missing baggage arrives at the house.  It is not enough, and Greg heads to the airport alone.  He struggles once more with his luggage, this time losing his cool and uttering the word “bomb” on the plane.  This gets him promptly yanked from the flight.  As this is going on, Jack sees the regret that Pam has for not sticking up for Greg.  She then defiantly shows her dad the transcripts from his medical board exams, proving that he has the knowledge to be a doctor.  The final bit of convincing Jack needs comes from his wife Dina (Blythe Danner).  She reminds Jack that he has always been hard on any guy that Pam has brought home, and that he had gone overboard with Greg.  Using his pull with security personnel, Jack is able to get to Greg and essentially apologize for how he has behaved.  It also comes with another impromptu lie detector test that shows how dedicated is Greg to Pam.  That is enough for Jack, and he brings Greg back to the house where he finally proposes to Pam.  The proceedings end after Debbie’s wedding with Jack reviewing the hidden camera footage of Greg’s activities over the past few days.

Like many comedies from this period, Meet the Parents contains humor that is outdated.  These days, avoiding the colorful jokes we sadly once thought funny often earns the label of being “woke.”  This can be derogatory or a positive depending on the context.  With the film, I am particularly thinking of the play on words pertaining to Greg’s real name.  There was a time when to make fun of homosexuality was acceptable comedic fodder.  I would put forward that this has never been the position of the Catholic Church.  It is also true that gay relationships are not permitted in the Church.  This may sound like a paradox.  After all, is acceptance not a part of what it means to love, if God is love, as I have repeated in many reviews?  You can see this kind of temporal understanding in the film as the Byrnes, especially Jack, come to accept Greg.  God’s love is much bigger and more complicated.  God does not hate anyone for any reason.  At the same time, not accepting a person’s sexual orientation has nothing to do with loving that person.  The Church teaches that sex has a creative, generative function possible only between heterosexual (and married) couples.  I will defer to the Theology of the Body for further commentary.  You may be reading this and thinking I have gone completely off the rails from one little line in a romantic comedy.  Perhaps, but at the same time, I bring it up to illustrate the Catholic reason for why we do not use such humor.  We may not agree with the lifestyle, but neither should we make light of it.  It is not loving to do so.

Actually, that might be the only aspect of Meet the Parents that does not stand the test of time.  So often while watching films from this era, you hear lines that make you cringe.  There are some genuinely funny moments in the movie and a great cast.  This is usually a good recipe for a satisfactory cinematic experience.


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