Sunday, March 16, 2014

Meet the Parents


It’s the holiday time of year and I’m so glad that I’ll be able to spend it here at Chateau Maine with my delightful Norman, rather than on the road with Vicki on Ricki, my new one woman show celebrating the life and times of Ricki Lake. My director, the exceedingly talented Peter Sellars, and I are taking the piece back to workshop to redo the second act slightly as it just doesn’t ‘sing’ the way we want it to yet. I also need to have Florence Klotz redo my first act fat suit somewhat as it’s interfering with some of my patented tap moves. No one is going to pay fifty dollars a seat to watch me bouncing on my latex padded rear end.

Thanksgiving was shared by me and Norman in our lovely home high in the hills. I dismissed the cook for the day and whipped up an intime little turkey dinner for two using processed turkey breast, stovetop stuffing and Birdseye frozen vegetables. The only problem was the martinis. Norman had mistaken Windex for Bombay Sapphire gin and the results were practically undrinkable. After stuffing ourselves on various savory treats, we decided to head off to the local Cineplex for some additional entertainment.

Our choice was a matinee of the new comedy, Meet the Parents from director Jay Roach and screenwriters Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke. We had been told by various unreliable sources that the movie was funny and featured the delectable Ben Stiller in a Speedo so we thought it might be worth our ten dollars for matinee tickets plus an additional three fifty for popcorn. It’s a remake of an earlier film of the same title (also written by and starring Glienna and Clarke), which was never widely seen. A supporting cast that included Emo Phillips may be the reason why.

Ben Stiller stars as our earnest hero Gaylord Focker (ha ha ha), known as Greg; he falls in love with the beauteous Pam (Teri Polo) and, as they become engaged, he must make that right of passage known as meeting her parents (Robert DeNiro and Blythe Danner). As a guest in his in-laws to be home for a long weekend, he is subjected to constant humiliation as everything that can possibly go wrong, does. To complicate matters, DeNiro is an ex-CIA operative skilled in psychological warfare and soon the battle is on between the generations with DeNiro using all the tactics at his disposal to show poor Greg up as a sap. Stiller and DeNiro are good sports and create recognizable humans amongst the mayhem but I was too busy wincing at the contrivances of the screenplay to laugh much.

Unfortunately, Meet the Parents is stillborn as both a comedy and as a film. I am a major fan of black comedy, but it is a delicate art. A set of rules and expectations must be set up in the initial few minutes to allow us to accept the mayhem as part of the farcical world that the characters inhabit. When the premises are too real, it veers into the comedy of humiliation that is not funny, but instead painful as we have all been in similar situations ourselves. The film doesn’t just step across this line, but jumps over it with both feet early on and never recovers. Even a skilled supporting turn from Owen Wilson, as the bride to be’s ex-fiancé can’t save it.

If the movie had had the guts to be more dangerous (which I understand the original did), and was more over the top, it might have worked for me. The pulled punches kept it too strongly rooted in reality and made it difficult to stomach. It also has an inappropriate Hollywood happy ending tacked on in the last fifteen minutes. Where is it written that domestic comedy must be wrapped up quite so neatly? I trust all the actors picked up their paychecks and will move on to better things as they’ve all done better work in better films in the past.

There is one nifty little scene, near the end of the movie, where Ben Stiller confronts an officious flight attendant (Kali Rocha) that gives a sense of what the movie might have been. Ms. Rocha better make sure her agents use this as an audition reel for her. She has a future as a comic actress if she so chooses.

I suppose it wasn’t a complete waste of money but I can think of better things to do with a Saturday afternoon, like alphabetize the spice rack…

Burning lacquered altars. Spray painted cats. Gratuitous 'Godspell' jokes. Human remains sacrilege (the funniest bit in the movie). Leaking septic tanks. Antique polygraphs. Volleyball to face.

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