Meet the Parents (2000)
Starring Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner
Directed by Jay Roach
Screenplay by John Hamburg and Jim Herzfeld
Story by Mary Ruth Clarke and Greg Glienna
Dreamworks SKG/Universal Studios
Is a nursing career fit for a real man? Why would anyone with a high medical school entrance exam score become a nurse? Will the phrase "male nurse" ever die?
These are among the questions raised, if only in passing, by Jay Roach's 2001 romantic comedy "Meet the Parents." In the film, Chicago nurse Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) faces off with prospective father-in-law-from-hell Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) in an old-fashioned attempt to win his blessing for a marriage proposal to daughter Pam (Teri Polo) during a visit to the family's Long Island home for Pam's sister's wedding. Jack, an intense, WASPy retired CIA agent, turns the visit into an extended interrogation and all around son-in-law fitness test for the more easygoing, Jewish Greg, despite the mediating efforts of Pam and her mother Dina (Blythe Danner). Greg's increasingly desperate--and disastrous--efforts to gain Jack's approval in spite of the older man's growing hostility propel the funny, well-made film, which is to some extent a variation of the old "Father of the Bride" scenario.
Though nursing is not a major part of the movie, the script reveals an understanding of basic nursing issues that is unusual for a mainstream Hollywood film. Since part of Jack's skepticism about Greg relates to his career choice, common perceptions of nursing, particularly as compared to medicine, are a recurring theme. Despite condescending challenges to Greg's intellect, honesty and manhood from Jack and others, including the physician who is about to marry Jack's other daughter, Greg stands his ground, explaining why he became a nurse despite high MCAT scores, why he finds nursing more fulfilling than he would have found medicine, and that--contrary to the implication of Pam's ex-fiance, a wealthy Wall Street trader--nursing is in fact a paid profession, rather than admirable volunteer work. Pam clarifies that Greg's recent move to triage is not "better than" being a nurse. The script uses the characters' negative stereotypes about nursing to further isolate Greg from the family he seeks to join, and some may wish that the character would have had a greater chance to rebut them, or that the stereotypes would not have been placed in the service of light comedy. But the film rejects the views of Greg's tormentors, who are generally presented as ignorant, unfair, and status-obsessed. The filmmakers understand that these views are inaccurate and destructive, and their sympathies clearly lie with Greg, whose girlfriend seems proud of his career and who in a key scene refuses to even consider changing it. The film does not question the underlying assumption that only male career choices matter; Pam's more traditionally "female" job as an elementary school teacher is never discussed, and the careers of Pam's mother Dina and her sister are not even mentioned.
"Male nurse" Greg is accident-prone, and he gets into trouble by stretching the truth in trying to fend off Jack's inquisition. The film is built around his comic misadventures. Even so, Stiller convincingly portrays a smart, caring, resourceful nurse who endures considerable adversity to win the woman he loves. De Niro delivers a restrained, effective version of his funny/scary persona, and the rest of the cast provides able support. Randy Newman wrote the music and received an Academy Award nomination.
Reviewed by Harry Jacobs Summers
Nursing Editor: Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN
Reviewed December 30, 2002
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