Tuesday, September 06, 2016

OVP: Meet the Parents (2000)

Film: Meet the Parents (2000)
Stars: Robert de Niro, Ben Stiller, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner, Owen Wilson
Director: Jay Roach
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Original Song-"A Fool in Love")
Snap Judgement Ranking: 1/5 stars

The Oscar Viewing Project is a weird project in some senses, because a couple of the categories the actual nominated product doesn't really relate to what is happening on the screen or for the rest of the movie.  Frequently, for example, you might have an effect or a performance that is supporting or only in a couple of scenes, and so to be a completist you finish the movie, but you might just be nominating it for one specific element that is done rather quickly (think of something like Hereafter, where the film's Visual Effects nomination is almost entirely due to something that happens in the first ten minutes of the picture).  Nowhere is this more evident, however, than the category of Best Original Song.  Here we have a throwaway ditty by Randy Newman (a favorite of the Academy's for reasons that usually escape me), embedded across the opening credits with little to no connection to the picture (it might play again over the closing credits, but it's hardly connected to the movie and quite frankly the lyrics don't feel all that relevant to Meet the Parents), and then I have the rest of a movie that was definitely not Oscar-nominated for its content.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film, it should be noted, has been so borrowed from my brother reminded me while I was complaining about watching it "cut it some slack-it has been done to death at this point" and indeed he's right.  The movie, about Greg (Stiller), a young man trying to impress his potential father-in-law Jack (de Niro) has spawned two sequels (one of which, weirdly enough, I saw prior to seeing this film) as well as countless copycats who saw the success of this picture and wanted to see if it could be easily duplicated (as is the film industry's wont these days).  However, just because it's tired doesn't mean it was any good to begin with, and I left Meet the Parents bitterly thinking about how loudly unfunny it was.

Honestly-none of the film's physical comedy moments worked for me at all.  I'm not one of those people who can't laugh at a movie while I'm alone (I do find that if you watch a movie by yourself you're less likely to laugh than in a crowded theater where everyone around you is laughing, but this isn't entirely true for me), but I didn't laugh once during this movie.  The film's off-putting nastiness toward Greg was hard to take in-I didn't grow up in Connecticut (or wherever this is supposed to take place, but it has the WASP-y vibe of Connecticut, or at least what the cinema teaches us that state is supposed to be about), but I did grow up with passive aggression, and let me tell you it's not nearly as rude as Jack makes it out to be from beginning-to-end.  The attacks on Greg, while I can appreciate the distance and time, show why political correctness is still vital because it brings about change.  The jokes that are entirely "laugh at him" in regard to his name, his profession (he's a nurse AND he's a man-HOW HILARIOUS!), and his religion are both unfunny and frequently offensive.  I'd be surprised that there wasn't more homophobia, but his real name is Gaylord so that works its way in by the end of the film.  It's hard to have any sympathy or love for anyone in the film save for Greg's finance Pam (Polo) and her overly polite mother (Danner), as every other person in the film is a jerk.

It's worth noting, too, that this is also true for Greg.  He literally sets the backyard on fire after lighting a cigarette on the roof, spray paints a cat, and has the bad taste to shoot a champagne cork at the urn of his girlfriend's grandmother.  I mean, one of these can be written off as bad luck, but taken together it's hard to tell what Pam sees in him at the end of the weekend.  Yes, her parents are horrible to him, but he literally accuses his father-in-law of being an abject liar in front of his entire family, which proves to be false.  It's hard to like either Greg or Jack by the film's end, to the point where I'm stunned there was a sequel-they both come across as the worst kinds of people.  If you find them relatable, you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

The fact that the film was unfunny and had a song that is so disposable I will surely have to listen to it again to remind myself of its contents before I hit the 2000 write-ups is given a rotten cherry on top of a disgusting sundae by pointing out that the acting isn't even that good.  De Niro is largely relying upon his decades of goodwill (something he's now been doing for decades as well) as once one of the finest actors in American cinema with this bravado, playing a comic version of himself but not really adding anything to it.  I've never actually been able to see de Niro, so brilliant in drama, pull off a comedy where it felt like he was doing something other than playing Travis Bickle for laughs, and once again that is the case here.  Stiller has never been a particularly good actor, and here he just seems angry-it's not believable that he's in love with Pam, or even that he's trying with the rest of her family, but just that he is someone who doesn't want bad things to happen to himself.  It makes the ending, where Pam realizes that she loves him, so false-when you don't believe they should be together in the end, how are we supposed to root for that?

All-in-all, then, this is one of the worst hit films I've seen in a while.  A waste of talent (only Blythe Danner happens to come out of this looking better for it), and a waste of an Oscar nomination that year.  What are your thoughts on this film that inexplicably spawned two sequels?  Share below!

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