Mercilessly embarrassing, heartlessly exploitative and painfully, painfully funny, Meet The Parents draws a squiggly line under the physically gross comedies of the last few years. Forget semen gags and pie screwing, it's emotional grossness that gets the most wincing high-pitched giggles and ""thank the sweet lord that never happened to me"" belly laughs here.
Building on a solid universal premise (boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy is dragged off to the back of beyond to meet suspicious parents who fear boy stealing their `little girl' more than they fear atom-splitting armageddon), director Jay Roach steadily ups the ante, building an absurdly funny film. Trading on carefully staged situations rather than committee-written one-liners, Roach stage-manages the segue from everyday life into surreal farce so carefully that you barely notice the bump.
One minute, male nurse Greg Focker (""pronounced just how it's spelled"" in the only really cheap gag) is arguing with airline staff about getting his bag through the x-ray machine. An hour or so in and he's strapped into a lie detector answering questions about his tastes in pornography. By the time the two-hour mark arrives... let's just say it involves claims of attempted cat-milking. And a trained moggie called Mr Jinx.
Desperately trying to make a good impression, Greg's situation is normality run through a mincer. Harmless social white lies escalate into domestic Watergates, good intentions sour and his every attempt to just make HER DAMN PARENTS LIKE HIM fizzles into horrible puddles of disaster. As a backdrop, it's the ideal foil for the bottled-up anger schtick that Ben Stiller's spent his entire career perfecting. Throwing the ever-present threat of this largely likeable fella cracking under the pressure and proceeding to rip Pam's dad a new arsehole into the mix adds something bristlingly edgy to the whole proceedings.
Especially when said dad is played by Mr De Niro. Finally finding a patch of solid ground in the soggy mire his career was threatening to sink into, Bobby turns in a greatest hits mix of a performance. Growling incomprehensible dialogue such as ""If I think you're trying to corrupt my first-born child in any way, I will bring you down, baby. I will bring you down to Chinatown"", he cooks up a real winner, shaking and baking a little bit of Jimmy Conway, a sprinkling of Travis Bickle and just a smidge of Al Capone into one solid, gleefully grotesque but never completely unlikeable caricature.
Painfully funny and funnily painful, Meet The Parents is top drawer, grown-up comedy. A date movie with teeth.