If You Like ______, Then You Should Watch _______ - Vol #2: Meet The Parents/The Heartbreak Kid
If You Like _______, Then You Should Watch _____ is a new column that will be appearing here on CCD.NYC weekly. Whenever people try recommending a movie to someone they instantly go with the line: "It's like ____ meets ____". It is the easiest way to convince someone to watch a new film... appeal to their basic sense of past movies they have seen and might have liked. It usually works too, since people like to compare & contrast things they are going to do with things they have already done. So in order to broaden your horizons and open you to some new films, we will use that model to help you discover some celluloid gold.
Ben Stiller is a comedic genius. There... I said it. It is not like my statement should be so blasphemous; he has been in comedy gems like Zoolander, There's Something About Mary, Dodge Ball, Tropic Thunder and Mystery Men. Yet there are some folks out there who would make the assertion that Stiller is unfunny. How? I mean... come on. The guy is amazing. The fact that he is also a writer/director/producer on these products as well as the star? Well that makes the case even stronger. But there are tons of people out there who just don't enjoy his brand of humor. I have a theory as to why: His characters often make people uncomfortable. He puts his characters through the emotional ringer by constantly being involved in cringe worthy scenes... and that is when I think Stiller is at his best. He sells the "all this bad stuff can't happen to one guy" card so well, and he becomes the lovable loser that you have to root for (even if you are discretely laughing at him as he has horrible things affect his life). That is certainly not for everyone...
Hook. Line. Sinker
Two of the common theme that Stiller has in his movies are: 1) His character's quests for love and 2) The ridiculous encounters with the love interests family/friends that he must endure to cement this relationship. It is in almost every single one of Stiller's films... the guy is always on the path of true love, and boy does he encounter his fair share of bumps! Add in his terrific talent for playing an "oddball" who is just a bit out of the norm, and you have the recipe for disaster playing out right in front of you. Out of all the movies that we have seen with Stiller that follow this trope (Along Came Polly, There Is Something About Mary, etc) the one where he is put through the ringer the most has to be Meet The Parents. And that is why it is probably one of Stiller's most recognizable and celebrated roles.
Meet The Parents came out in 2000 and was directed by the hot young comedic talent Jay Roach. Roach was coming off the success of the first two Austin Powers movies and was riding high, and he picked this movie to continue his comedic ascension. Most people do not know it but this movie is actually a REMAKE of a 1991 independent film of the same name. After casting Ben Stiller in the role of Greg "Gaylord" Focker (originally written with Jim Carrey in mind) and Robert DeNiro in the role of his future father in law Jack Byrnes the film was set up to deliver comedic goodness. It certainly does not disappoint. Focker wants to propose to his love Pam, but right as he is about to execute the perfect proposal she gets a phone call from her sister Debbie. Debbie gives her the news that SHE just got engaged... and Pam goes on and on about how great it was that her sister's fiance Bob asked her dad permission. Focker, in typical "I have to please everyone" Stiller fashion, decides to table his engagement until they make the journey to NYC for Debbie & Bob's wedding so that he can consult with his father in law first and make Pam happy. Unfortunately, life and a series of unforgettable events get in the way.
Jinxy Cat is in the circle of trust...
From the first scene on the airplane to NY Stiller does a great job coming off as paranoid and nervous about what he is about to do. He is not only proposing... but proposing to a woman in Pam (played by the sexy Teri Polo) who is way out of his league. She digs him. and you can see that Stiller is still unclear as to WHY this is all happening. Hence his need for everything to go perfect. From the moment he meets his father in law, played perfectly straight by De Niro, there is an uneasy tension that occurs and makes you feel like Greg will not be fully accepted into the Byrnes family. Jack pokes fun at Greg being a nurse, and continues to act stand off-ish in relation to his daughters boyfriend, which in turn triggers Greg to try even HARDER to win Jack over. These efforts lead to some unforgettable comedic scenes (the polygraph scene will forever be one of my favorite comedic scenes in movie history) that actually move Greg FURTHER away from his prospective new family as his actions cause problems and tension making it hard to like him. Greg gets the distinct feeling that something is up with Jack, and discovers that he is not an unsuspecting dad who is over-protective of his daughter but in fact a CIA operative that just recently retired and is applying all of his spy tricks on Greg in an effort to test his mettle (and possibly drive him away from Pam should he not prove to be a worthy boyfriend).
Greg telling his cat milking story from his days in Motown...
When you look back at the film, the thing that makes it so hard to watch is because you genuinely feel BAD for Greg. In the beginning we get the impression that in Chicago Greg is a confident nurse doing well in life with a hot girlfriend and everything is roses for him. But we find out (been in latter sequels) that Greg had a pretty rough life of being picked on and teased, and was always taking Ls in life. After overcoming all that, he just want to get married and continue down this path of life with Pam. This would almost validate him conquering any demons he had in his closet about his past that was filled with unpopularity and ridicule. But Jack ain't having that... not with his baby girl. Which brings us to the second common thread in Stiller's movies, the interactions he has with his lovers family/friends and how inappropriate they can be. He gets portrayed as a drug user, breaks Debbie's nose when competing to hard in a pool volleyball game, messes up the family blessing at dinner by uttering the lyrics to a song from musical instead of an actual prayer, gets caught in a lie about milking cats for food on his families farm in Detroit, destroys a family urn containing Pam's grandmothers ashes with a cork while making a champagne toast, paints a cat to resemble the family cat Mr. Jinx that he lost and tries to pass it off as the real one, burns down an alter that was created for Bob & Debbie's wedding... and that is just A SMALL AMOUNT of things that happen to him. You can't help but feel bad for Stiller while at the same time understanding why all the members of Pam's family are beginning to HATE him. None more so than Jack, who is the one person Greg is desperately trying to please.
Which brings me to our choice for the column this week, The Heartbreak Kid from 2007. The Heartbreak Kid has a lot in common with Meet The Parents, much more than just Ben Stiller. First of all, it is also a REMAKE of a previous film. The original Heartbreak Kid starred Charles Grodin (in the same role that Stiller portrays) and a hopelessly young & beautiful Cybill Sheppard (the role played by Michelle Monaghan). It was a very funny movie, and holds up in its own right (the first Meet The Parents does not in my humble opinion). The directors of the 2007 movie are the Farrelly Brothers, who like Jay Roach were famous for comedic gems like Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary. And in this film we get to see Stiller both in search of true love and having wild interactions with all the side characters in pursuit of it.
Stiller plays Eddie, a sporting goods salesman who is successful in business but not in his personal life. Eddie is unfulfilled, and kind of yearns for companionship. He witnesses the purse of a beautiful young woman get snatched and tries to chase down the thief. He fails... but he is introduced to Lila (the stunning Malin Ackerman), who is very grateful that anyone would intervene on her behalf so bravely. They begin to date, and things are going great. Lila gets word from her job that she is about to be relocated to Holland. She rants about how it is unfair that her company ships unmarried workers all over the world but will allow married workers to remain in Cali. This gives Eddie an idea, and upon consulting his dad (played by Stiller's real life dad Jerry Stiller) and his best friend (the awesome Rob Corddry) he decides to pop the question to Lila despite only dating her for a short period of time. They get married, and head out on a road trip to Cabo in Mexico for their honeymoon.
Immediately things take a turn for the worse. Lila is not the innocent girl that Eddie thinks he married. In fact, she is quite the opposite. She is obnoxious on the ride down, singing loudly and bothering the mild mannered Eddie every chance she gets. When they get there she makes Eddie participate in some intense sexual activities and shows off a wild side that Eddie was unaware of. She also is extremely stubborn, and refuses to wear sunblock even though Eddie recommends it. After receiving a 1st degree sunburn, Lila has a huge fight with Eddie where she reveals lots of details about the real her including past drug usage and the truth about her job. Eddie is pissed, and storms off while Lila is confined to the room with her sunburn. While out at a bar, Eddie meets Miranda who is on vacation with her family from Mississippi.
You said you wanted to get SAVAGE...
He immediately feels a connection with her and uses the fact that his actual wife is stuck up in the honeymoon suite sunburned to spend time with his new object of affection Miranda. Everyone in Miranda's family accepts Eddie, except her cousin Martin (played by the hysterical Danny McBride) who suspects Eddie is up to something. Martin occupies the role of DeNiro as the guy trying to break Stiller. Instead of the family giving him issues and causing crazy situations (like in Meet the Parents), this time the tense situations occur to the juggling act Eddie is performing while trying to court Miranda and keep Lila unsuspecting. It all blows up in his face, with everyone finding out about each other. And that is where the real fun starts. The reveal that Eddie is married is the best scene in the movie, and makes me cry laughing every time. Now stuck in Mexico, Eddie must find a way to rekindle what he had with Miranda once again.
Why don't the just call you BEAU????
The characters of Greg & Eddie are quite similar even though their relationship issues might be different. They are both everyday guys who are in relationships with women that they feel are stepping down to be with them... and since they feel that way they struggle to try and do everything "perfect" in the hope that these wonderful women will stick around and stay with them. But the more they try to do things to IMPROVE their standings in the eyes of their significant others and their families, the worse the situation gets for them. Both also force hilarious comedic scenes in the interim, which make both films a worthy watch even though it has been so long since their respective releases. If you enjoy the laughs and tension of the classic that is Meet the Parents, then The Heartbreak Kid is right up you alley!
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