“First comes love. Then comes the interrogation,” warns the tagline of Meet the Parents. Pam’s father, Jack (Robert De Niro), is strictly old-fashioned. Before his first-born girl says “I do,” he must give her suitor his blessing — and the once-over. Focker prepares to win his lady’s hand arming himself with only a strategic gift and a smile.
Of course, Focker’s plans go humorously to hell. He seems to be a lightning rod for comic domestic disasters which befall him and his would-be family in rising waves that threaten to swamp their hopes for a happily-ever-after. Will the clown prince win the hand of daddy’s princess or will he be booted out of what Jack ominously calls the family’s “circle of trust”?
Parents’ casting fits like a bridesmaid’s glove. There’s something about Teri Polo as Pam. She’s a model modern would-be bride, fresh and milk-and-cookies sweet. De Niro’s Jack Byrnes is stone-faced as he serves his replies on the rocks to Greg’s ingratiating small talk; he’s a glacier in retiree’s sportswear. Focker is all heart, thumbs and two left feet. He’s not about to break the ice.
Meet the Parents has several laugh-out-loud moments, mostly at Focker’s emotional distress. That’s comedy. But there’s something disturbing under some of the laughs. Many of the jokes are built on Pam’s WASPish family circle easily mistaking Jewish Focker as a deviant other: an overeager-to-please pervert they wouldn’t accept into their country club, much less their homes.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) tackled what is probably Parents’ unconscious subtext head-on: WASP dad (Spencer Tracy) meets black prospective son-in-law (Sidney Poitier) — with hilarious results. They called it “a love story of today.” Has 33 years made ours a much different “today”?
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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