"More Postmodern Mockery"
What You Need To Know:
MEET THE PARENTS violates two important principles. First, it encourages the audience to laugh at or ridicule the true, the good, the just, and/or the beautiful. For example, it mocks the Christian faith during a scene where Greg prays at the dinner table and when Pam’s ex-fiance Kevin shows a beautifully carved wooden gazebo he made for her sister’s wedding, a work of carpentry which Kevin says was inspired by Christ. Furthermore, although Greg’s lying is exposed, he ultimately gets away with it in the end. Secondly, even when the movie does manage to ridicule actual vice, folly and error, it does so using foul language and toilet humor.
(HH, AbAb, Ro, C, FR, LLL, VV, S, N, A, DD, MM) Humanist worldview implicitly mocking professional excellence & respect for the dead as well as Christian faith (perhaps because secular filmmakers don’t have a well-defined, rational theology about God, which is reflected in the protagonist’s character), plus romantic elements regarding emotions & character extols Jesus Christ as a role model but in a glib manner; 13 obscenities & 12 profanities, plus numerous references to the “f” word without really saying the word & some gross-out humor regarding toilet, cat relieving itself in toilet & on ashes of someone’s dead mother, septic tank overflows, septic tank spill sprays all over people; moderate slapstick violence including pratfalls, climbing on roof, chasing cat, accidentally starting fire, cat plummets to ground from roof, people sprayed with liquid feces, volleyball smashes into girl’s face, making it bloody & swollen, & shoving; no fornication scenes but unmarried couple lives together, some sexual references, & man & woman embrace passionately while lying on bed; upper male nudity, woman in nightgown & man wears skimpy swimming trunks; alcohol use; smoking, discussion of possible drug message in popular folk song & young man hides marijuana use from his father by letting father assume hash pipe belongs to his sister’s boyfriend; and, protagonist ultimately escapes real punishment for constant lies, teacher uses magical thinking exercise on preschoolers & mocking song says, “Show me a man who’s gentle and kind, and I’ll show you a loser.”
Comedy often presents a special problem for the Christian critic because so much of it relies on sarcasm or contemptuous satire of a person, social custom or institution. Of course, satirizing the true, the good, the just, and the beautiful, especially in a sarcastic or contemptuous manner, is always an evil activity, to one degree or another, but even when the artist is using laughter, ridicule, mockery, wit, and sarcasm to expose and discredit human vice, folly, pomposity, and self-righteousness, how far can he go? Even if he’s discrediting outright villainy?
Thus, there are at least two laws at work for the Christian critic analyzing comedy and satire. The work of art is evil, to one extent or another, if it encourages the audience to laugh at, and especially ridicule, the true, the good, the just, or the beautiful, and the work of art is evil, to one extent or another, if it discredits vice, folly, pomposity, self-righteousness, and/or villainy in a manner which violates biblical principles of truth, goodness, justice, and beauty.
MEET THE PARENTS, a new fall comedy, violates both these laws. It stars Ben Stiller of THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY and KEEPING THE FAITH as a male Jewish nurse named Greg, who works in an emergency ward. Greg starts to propose marriage to his gentile live-in girlfriend, Pam, played by Teri Polo, until he learns that Pam thinks it was a good idea that her younger sister’s boyfriend asked permission of their father before he proposed. Greg dutifully accompanies Pam one weekend to her parent’s house to attend her sister’s wedding. There, he intends to pop the question but makes a series of fatal social blunders in front of Pam’s strict father, who happens to be an ex-CIA interrogator. Things go from bad to worse when Greg tries to cover up a series of terrible accidents he commits by lying about them.
MEET THE PARENTS violates two important Christian principles. First, it encourages the audience to laugh at or ridicule the true, the good, the just, and/or the beautiful. For example, the movie’s humanist worldview implicitly mocks the professional excellence of Pam’s father and her family’s friends. It also mocks the Christian faith during a scene where Greg prays at the dinner table and when Pam’s ex-fiancé Kevin shows a beautifully carved wooden gazebo he made for her sister’s wedding, a work of carpentry which Kevin says was inspired by Christ. Furthermore, although Greg’s lying is exposed, he ultimately gets away with it in the end. Secondly, even when the movie does manage to ridicule actual vice, folly and other errors, it does so using foul language and toilet humor, instead of using truth, goodness, justice, or beauty.
Artistically speaking, the production values in MEET THE PARENTS are reasonably high for a comedy like this. The photography and art direction are particularly excellent at capturing the middle class gentile milieu of the parents. Ben Stiller is funny at times, in a dry, manic sort of way, but it is Robert DeNiro who stands out as Pam’s strict father. DeNiro’s dramatic roles have become sort of cliché since the 1980s, despite his earlier promise in 1970s movies such as MEAN STREETS, THE GODFATHER PART II and even the ultraviolent TAXI DRIVER, but it is in his comical roles, including THE KING OF COMEDY, MIDNIGHT RUN and ANALYZE THIS, that he has proven his range is not so limited as his dramatic roles in the last 20 years too often suggest.