Story Maps: Meet The Parents
The Meet The Parents screenplay is a classic example of a well-executed, high concept comedy that uses every dramatic element and beat of the Story Maps method of screenwriting.
Well, except one.
Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) has no Skill.
Most Protagonists have a Misbehavior, which is a character trait or quirk that consistently creates conflict for them. In Focker’s case, it’s that he can’t stop lying.
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He lies that he didn’t flush the toilet that causes a septic tank overflow, instead trying to blame it on the cat, Mr. Jinx (as seen above). He lies that he grew up on a farm, and when pressed, he says he used to milk cats because “You can milk anything with nipples.” He lies that the cat he brings home from the animal shelter is Mr. Jinx, when, in fact, he spray painted the tail of a stray to look like Mr. Jinx.
Greg Focker doesn’t have good luck with cats.
He also doesn’t really do anything right (which, btw, is much easier to pull off in Comedy than in other genres). We like him, because we’ve seen him be a caring nurse and plan a romantic marriage proposal to his girlfriend Debbie, but after these opening scenes, it’s all downhill from there and he executes failure after failure while exhibiting no discernible skills, whatsoever.
But that’s okay, because the heart of the story is a hilarious David and Goliath struggle — the sensitive male nurse vs. the hardened CIA Interrogator (Robert DeNiro’s Jack). Focker’s supposed to get his butt kicked (and Ben Stiller’s one of those actors who we love to see fail, as in There’s Something About Mary or Tropic Thunder. Or Along Came Polly. Or The Heartbreak Kid. Or Night At The Museum. Or…okay, you get the idea).
Greg keeps trying to win over Jack and failing. The height of his struggle comes in the second half of Act Two, which I refer to as Act Two-B and can most often be described as “things fall apart.” This is the section where the Protagonist keeps failing, with the exception of one moment of personal power, leading to them hitting bottom at the end of Act Two, which forces them to make a decision of high risk that propels them and us into the final act.
In Meet The Parents, cause leads to effect and Greg’s lies are uncovered, motivating Debbie to reject him and Jack to kick him out of the house.The only thing left for Greg to do is… to tell the truth.
It all turns out okay in the end — the External Climax finds Jack proposing to Greg in an unforgettable moment.
Ultimately, the Meet The Parents screenplay is a great study in escalating conflict and clever complications in the Comedy genre and I highly suggest you study its structure and techniques.
The Full Story Map for Meet The Parents is featured in the “Booster Pack” of my E-Book Story Maps: How to Write a GREAT Screenplay, available now. Please stay tuned to the site for updates.
Good Luck and Happy Writing!
Good point re Greg’s lying. Shows his insecurity/need for approval but the coping mechanism he picks (lying) gets him in deeper problems. Very relatable situation — getting the father-in-law’s approval. Bring in the young couples/date crowd and their parents = big hit IF it’s funny. If it’s not funny, you get FOUR CHRISTMASES.
The original script for Four Christmases had a great opening scene — the man and woman meet for the first time in a movie theater on Christmas Eve — they both go to a movie every Christmas Eve because they’ve lied to their families that they’re out of town. It’s a nice connection moment and says a lot about the characters. But…they replaced it with a cliche scene of them as a married couple pretending to be strangers at a bar to spice up their love life. It had nothing to do with the story and wasn’t funny. Ugh.