Meet the Parents

Released:  2000

Cast:  Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner, Owen Wilson

Oscar Nominations:  Best Music, Original Song (“A Fool in Love” – Randy Newman)

SUMMARY:  Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Ben Stiller) is a nurse in Chicago, where he lives with his girlfriend, Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo).  Greg is ready to propose, but before he can do so Pam gets a call from her sister, Debbie.  Debbie has just gotten engaged, and is getting married in two weeks.  During the conversation, Greg learns that Debbie’s fiancée, Bob, took Debbie’s parents a gift and asked for her father’s permission.  Greg quickly scraps his plans to propose until he can do the same.  Two weeks later, he and Pam get on a plane to go to the wedding, which is at Pam’s parents’ house.  Greg takes the engagement ring with him in his suitcase, which he is forced to check when it is too big to carry on.  Unfortunately, the airline loses the bag, which contains everything Greg brought with him as well as the ring.  Right before he meets Pam’s parents, Greg is warned that her father sees smoking as a sign of weakness, and that he does not know they are living together.  Instead of having Greg leave his cigarettes in the car, Pam throws them onto the roof of the house.  Pam’s parents, Jack (Robert De Niro) and Dina (Blythe Danner) then come out to greet them.  Almost from the start, Jack takes an obvious dislike to Greg.  Greg hates cats, while Jack and Dina dote on their cat, Mr. Jinx; Jack thinks that being a nurse is a cop-out for someone who wasn’t good enough to become a doctor, and he suspects that Greg does drugs after Greg makes a reference to the song “Puff the Magic Dragon” not being about a dragon.  This impression is only furthered later, when Jack finds a pipe in Greg’s jacket.  Unbeknownst to Jack, the pipe actually belongs to his own son, Denny, who had loaned Greg the jacket.  Things get worse that first evening when Jack asks (Jewish) Greg to say grace, and Greg starts quoting song lyrics.  When he attempts to open a bottle of champagne, Greg is surprised by the discovery that Pam was previously engaged; he shoots the cork off the bottle and into an urn that contains the ashes of Jack’s mother (Jinx then uses the ashes as a litter box).  Before going to bed that evening, Greg stumbles into a hidden room in the basement.  When Jack finds him, he offers to demonstrate an antique lie detector machine to Greg – then grills him.  Pam then reveals that her father wasn’t a flower dealer, he was a CIA counterintelligence officer.

The next day, Debbie and Bob arrive with Debbie’s parents, and Jack makes various pointed references to what he sees as Greg’s “failures”, including his profession.  Pam states that Greg nearly aced his MCATs, but decided not to become a doctor; however, when Jack has his sources check on this, he learns that no Greg Focker ever took the MCATs.  As the day goes on, Greg becomes even more uncomfortable.  The entire group heads out to the best man’s house for a barbecue, but Greg was not told that the best man was Pam’s ex-fiancee, Kevin (Owen Wilson).  Like Bob, Kevin is extremely successful, and is adored by Jack.  When the group gets in the pool for a game of water volleyball, Greg is forced to wear a Speedo (he still hasn’t received his luggage), and proves to be quite inept at the game.  In an attempt to prove himself, Greg spikes the ball – right into Debbie’s face, giving her a bloody nose and black eye (which swells shut).  When the group returns to the Byrnes house, they find that because Greg accidentally flushed the downstairs toilet, their septic tank has overflowed, covering the yard (where the wedding will be held) with sewage.  Greg’s bag finally arrives, but he quickly realizes that it’s just a lookalike.  He calls the airline, and distractedly lets Jinx out of the house.  Since Jinx is a house-only cat, Greg goes outside on the roof to try to catch him.  While up there, he finds his cigarettes, but while trying to catch Jinx, accidentally throws a lit one into the yard, which destroys the hand-carved, 70-work-hour wooden altar Kevin built for the wedding.  When the family discovers that Jinx is missing, Pam volunteers Greg to locate the cat:  in desperation, Greg finds a shelter cat, paints his tail so that it is identical to Jinx, and returns to the family (while continuously calling around town to find the real cat).  This seems to finally win Jack over – until Jack gets a message that Jinx has been at the neighbor’s all along.  When the group returns after dinner, the shelter cat has trashed the house and destroyed Debbie’s wedding dress.  This proves to be the final straw for Jack, who sends Greg away.  However, Greg has one card to play:  he alerts the rest of the family to the fact that Jack is planning a secret mission.  Jack then reveals that the “mission” was actually a surprise honeymoon for Bob and Debbie.  Greg then gathers his belongings (his real suitcase has finally arrived, alerting the family to his real first name) and heads to the airport alone.  While Jack believes he has done the right thing for Pam, Dina believes that he has been too extreme, driving away anybody who gets involved with his oldest child.  Pam then shows him a fax from Greg’s parents, proving that Greg did ace the MCATs.  Jack then realizes that Pam really does love Greg, and it is his fault that Greg has left.  Using his sources, he stalls Greg at the airport until he can retrieve him.  The two men then return to the Byrnes house, where Greg finally proposes to Pam.

MY TAKE:  This movie manages to be a comedy of errors without being slapstick, like a Marx Brothers.  For me, this actually made it funnier, because the situations are so believable.  Greg is desperate to get Jack’s approval, and Jack has already decided not to like Greg, so things are ripe for a conflict.  Poor Greg just can’t do anything right, and the more he tries to fix things, the worse it gets.  It doesn’t help that he doesn’t have his cigarettes – all weekend he chews furiously on Nicorette gum.  Honestly, if I were Greg I don’t think I would have lasted as long, because it’s pretty obvious that Jack made up his mind before meeting Greg.  After lighting the altar on fire, I would have just gone home.  Greg sticks it out, but makes a really bad decision in trying to pass the shelter cat off as Jinx.  This actually highlights the fact that Greg hates cats, because anybody who knows cats realizes that leaving a shelter cat alone in your house on the first day is a really bad idea.  You’re taking a huge chance, since you don’t know their behavior or personality.  In addition, Jack is really close to Jinx, so I don’t know how Greg thought he wouldn’t discover the difference almost immediately (the cat is trained to do tricks).  In addition, Greg is so nervous that every time Jack catches him fibbing, Greg says something stupid.  This is how we get the famous line about milking cats – at the store, Greg is looking at an ad for breast pumps to hide the fact that he was spying on Jack.  When questioned, Greg says that he grew up on a farm; at dinner that night, it comes out that Greg grew up in Detroit.  Pam asks Greg what he has milked in his life, and a nervous (and flustered) Greg says he’s milked a cat – and that you can milk anything with nipples.  Jack then asks if he could be milked, since he has nipples.  You have to admire Greg for trying so hard, but really, the guy doesn’t know when to give up.  Fortunately for us, his attempts to win approval are really funny, and there’s even a happy ending.

RATING:  Funny.

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