Meet the Parents requires an extraordinary suspension of disbelief. It’s an absurdist comedy, but the presence of Robert De Niro and–maybe even more so–Blythe Danner imply Parents is based in some kind of reality.
So the simplest thing–believing Teri Polo could be a well-adjusted adult after growing up with De Niro as a father–becomes Parents’s first hurdle. She and Ben Stiller have only the mildest chemistry and it only goes downhill as the film gets more absurd (and more funny).
Director Roach isn’t capable enough to make that romance, which should be the primary focus of Parents narratively, work, so he concentrates on De Niro and Stiller being funny together. It works. Stiller and De Niro are very funny together. While Stiller actually gives a good performance, De Niro’s is problematic. His best moments are either with Danner or Stiller. When De Niro has to play off Owen Wilson, it feels wrong, like De Niro’s doing a “Saturday Night Live” sketch mocking the film.
Roach’s inabilities carry over into the technical aspects as well. He can’t decide how realistic he wants Parents to play–the film opens with a series of home video shots and there’s some Steadicam later on, but it’s mostly static. It doesn’t necessarily need to choose, but it’s clear Roach is simply incapable of making the decision.
Towards the end, Parents gets very long. It can’t handle with the return to sensibly behaving characters. The acting helps get it through.
Directed by Jay Roach; screenplay by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg, based on a story by Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke; director of photography, Peter James; edited by Greg Hayden and Jon Poll; music by Randy Newman; production designer, Rusty Smith; produced by Robert De Niro, Roach, Jane Rosenthal and Nancy Tenenbaum; released by Universal Pictures.
Starring Robert De Niro (Jack Byrnes), Ben Stiller (Greg Focker), Teri Polo (Pam Byrnes), Blythe Danner (Dina Byrnes), James Rebhorn (Dr. Larry Banks), Jon Abrahams (Denny Byrnes), Phyllis George (Linda Banks), Kali Rocha (Atlantic American Flight Attendant), Thomas McCarthy (Dr. Bob Banks), Nicole DeHuff (Deborah Byrnes) and Owen Wilson (Kevin Rawley).