Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Ben Stiller has a good line in embarrassment and chagrin. His chiseled face looks so earnest, so willing to please, and turns incredulous as the world conspires against him. In "There's Something About Mary" and again in "Meet the Parents," he plays a young man who desperately wants to impress the girl he loves and plunges into a series of humiliating miscalculations. He doesn't have anything hanging from his ear in this picture, but he acts as if he thinks he might.
In "There's Something About Mary," Stiller played a character who managed to set a beloved dog afire. "Meet the Parents" is not a clone or imitation of "Mary"--it has its own original inspiration--but it does get Stiller into a lot of trouble over a beloved pet cat, and even funnier trouble over another cat, entirely imaginary, which he claims to have milked.
Why would a man claim to have milked a cat? The screenplay, by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg, gets a lot of its laughs out of the way Stiller's character tells thoughtless little social lies and then, when he's caught, improvises his way into bigger, outrageous lies. The development is like a comic pyramid: The base is a casual claim that he was reared on a farm. It is revealed he was actually reared in Detroit. Well, yes, he says, he was. Then why did he claim to have experience at milking? Well, he had a cat, which "birthed" 30 kittens, including one little fellow who could never get his turn at the table, and . . . by this time Stiller is demonstrating how he used his fingers on the mother cat's itsy-bitsy little nipples, and everyone in the room is regarding him as a madman.
In "Meet the Parents," he plays the unfortunately named Greg Focker. That's not his real name; Focker is, Greg isn't. He is in love with a Chicago schoolteacher named Pam (Teri Polo), who takes him home to meet her parents on Long Island. Her dad, Jack, is played by Robert De Niro as the nightmare of every hopeful groom. He is a reasonable man, his reason operating like a steel vise to clamp down on every contradiction and improbability in Greg's conversation, and there is no shortage of them. He is also a man with a great love for his cat, which he has toilet-trained, but which, ominously, "has no outdoor survival skills." What are the odds that Greg will let the cat outdoors? And that the cat will turn out to be better toilet-trained than Greg? "Meet the Parents" builds brilliantly on interlocking comic situations, until Greg has involved himself with a counterfeit cat, set the house afire and flooded the lawn (where Pam's sister is about to be married) with an overflowing septic tank.