Meet the Parents waters down There’s Something About Mary‘s pre-prom martyrdom sequence to feature length, capitalizing on Ben Stiller’s unfailingly inventive, often quite touching abilities as an all-occasion punching bag. Here Stiller, playing a smitten nurse named Greg Focker, suffers at the hands of his girlfriend Pam’s family during a visit to Oyster Bay for her sister’s wedding. Shaken by the immediate and brutally pure lack of rapport that he shares with the titular parents, dotty Dina (Blythe Danner) and maniacally protective Jack (Robert De Niro), and bereft of both his luggage and his temporarily contraband cigarettes, Greg commences cramming his foot in his mouth and sputtering pointless lies. That Greg is a Jewish kid from Detroit in a decidedly unmacho profession doesn’t help his standing in this condescending, old-moneyed milieu. Meet the Parents‘ potential as an altogether loopier movie is pointed up in the casting of De Niro as a sweatered WASP paterfamilias, not to mention Owen Wilson—with his magnificent busted nose and perpetual Zen-stoner squint—in the Brett Favre role as Kevin, the wealthy, church-loving golden boy whom Pam (Teri Polo) let get away. (Upon hearing that Greg is Jewish, Kevin is unfazed: “Well, so was JC!”)
Greg’s own stations of the cross spin out of control before the film backpedals into sentimental resolution; director Jay Roach sabotages punch lines with setups that honk and sputter like oncoming trucks, and tends to stage Farrelly-aspiring chaos only to cut away skittishly before the whole rig explodes. But watching Ben get the girl or be seriously injured trying always has its dry, keening pleasures, and Greg Focker is the richest cinematic exemplum of men in the nursing profession since Philip Seymour Hoffman’s angelic guardian in Magnolia.
Surpassing Dan Aykroyd’s Nothing but Trouble as the most astoundingly atrocious walrus-flop of a directorial debut by a languishing actor ever contrived, Sally Field’s Beautiful attempts to satirize beauty pageants through grotesque white-trash stereotypes, sickening incest allusions (did you know that young girls, if they’re as savvy as our heroine, can choose whether or not their stepdads molest them?), and a bizarre moral scale by which sociopathy is arbitrarily rewarded and punished. Minnie Driver, most likely cast as the lead toothy shrew due to her shivery resemblance to the satanic Pepsi girl who plays her daughter, stomps through the film in ill-fitting Wonder Woman gear; her eye-gouging performance improves if you imagine her as the star of The Sally Field Story.