[box cover]

Meet the Parents: Collector's Edition

Universal Home Video

Starring Ben Stiller, Robert DeNiro, Blythe Danner,
Teri Polo, Owen Wilson, and James Rebhorn

Written by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg
Directed by Jay Roach


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Review by Alexandra DuPont                    


I. INTRODUCTION.

Because Ben Stiller portrays yet another deeply flawed protagonist subjected to relationship-themed cruelty, Meet the Parents feels superficially like a de facto sequel to There's Something About Mary — only with Jodie Foster/Laura Linney hybrid Teri Polo in the Cameron Diaz role and with all the riveting scatological elements that distinguished Mary toned down by studio focus-groups for maximum box-office impact and with Mary's "male-stalker-instinct" theme replaced by a less-riveting "male-protector-as-omnipresent-nightmare" theme.

Ahem.

II. LET'S TRY THAT AGAIN: THE "MEET THE PARENTS" PLOTLINE AS PRINTED ON THE BACK OF THE DVD BOX.

[Reviewer's Note: Pay special attention to the box blurb's horrid puns, shameless alliteration and abuse of descriptive clichés. I'll wager that the lads and lasses behind this were actually trying to spoof themselves — or perhaps Gene Shalit — when they wrote it. Why there aren't any exclamation points is beyond me, quite frankly; this blurb practically SCREAMS for them.]

"Male nurse Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) is poised to propose to his girlfriend Pam (Teri Polo) during a weekend stay at her parents' home. But here's the catch ... he needs to ask her father first. Alas, the fur flies as Jack Byrnes, Pam's cat-crazy, ex-CIA father, played hysterically by Academy Award ® winner Robert DeNiro, takes an immediate dislike to her less-than-truthful beau. Greg's quest for approval gets seriously sidetracked as Murphy's Law takes over and a hilarious string of mishaps turns him into a master of disaster and total pariah in the eyes of the entire family ... all except for his shell-shocked girlfriend, who can't believe she still loves her one-man wrecking crew. Meet the Parents, from the director of Austin Powers, is an uproarious blockbuster hit that bombards you with one laugh after another, as true love tries to conquer all, against all odds."

Shall we all pause a moment to receive our wacky-hijinks immunizations? Excellent. Let's move on.

III. WHAT'S GOOD?

Oh, quite a bit — most of it stemming from Jay Roach's fairly intelligent and restrained direction, box blurb notwithstanding, plus two capable performances at the film's center. [BTW, skip ahead to the extras if you have no interest in reading about yet another mainstream American comedy, even a fairly good one.]

I gather that audiences laughed loudest at Meet the Parents' broadest comedy — its accidental torching of hand-crafted wedding props and its girls getting brained with volleyballs and its splattering of yuppies with septic mud and all that — because those sequences are what run in endless loops behind the DVD's menus. All that slapstick's just fine, if terribly easy to see coming. (Make no mistake: This is a mainstream comedy — There's Something About Mary watered down by way of Father of the Bride.) But for me, Meet the Parents' smallest moments were its strongest, and what made this disc worth a spin.

I've adored Ben Stiller ever since his self-titled sketch programmes were tanking on MTV and Fox back in the early '90s. As Mary finally proved to the world, he bears heaps of indignity with more amusement value than just about any actor working today. He's not in top form here — the script often calls upon him to do little more than glower and tell compounding white lies, which actually makes him a little hard to root for — but he still elevates the material.

And DeNiro. Well. For some reason, this Oscar-winner decided a few years ago to trade in on past menace for big laffs; unfortunately, he decided to do so in such middling dreck as Analyze This and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. In Meet the Parents, he finally trades his menace using some decent material. Jack Byrnes is what might result if his character from Heat had stepped into the Brundle-chamber with Ward Cleaver — and it's Stiller and DeNiro's interactions, IMHO, that elevate Meet the Parents into repeat-viewing territory.

Their exchanges have an almost rhythmic quality — Stiller says something boastful or ass-kissy or semi-truthful, then DeNiro says something that either (a) goads Stiller into a deeper lie, or (b) shuts Stiller down completely. This happens again and again and again, and it takes actors of skill (and editors of skill) to play it without the whole thing degenerating into repetitive, sit-commy goo. (BTW, an similar awkward dynamic involving DeNiro can be found in one of the commentary tracks — only with real-world, cringe-inducing results; see Section V for details.)

Special "props" also to Bottle Rocket's Owen Wilson, cast against type as a weirdly earnest, semi-condescending Christian frat-boy woodworker/stockbroker who used to date Stiller's girlfriend. Wilson's a subject of special focus and praise throughout the disc's extras.

IV. WHAT'S NOT SO GOOD?

Structurally, the movie spends its first two-thirds setting high hurdles for itself — hurdles it can't quite manage to jump at the end. The ending's totally pat, featuring typical outburst/resolution claptrap. (Stiller and Roach even admit to mild discomfort with the film's final scenes in their commentary track.) Also, certain narrative threads, including the father's obsession with surveillance, are simply dropped. (On the commentary track, Roach and Stiller discuss how a surveillance motif was to be used throughout the film — and, as usual with DVD, you want to smack the filmmakers' about the face and neck for second-guessing themselves.) And, as mentioned, Greg Focker really is kind of a weasel.

V. WHAT ABOUT THE EXTRAS?

They're remarkably plentiful — and, truth be told, largely junk. Still, here they are, in semi-excruciating detail:

Universal's second DVD release of Meet the Parents, a "Bonus Edition" released in December 2004 to promote the theatrical release of Meet the Fockers, omits many of the extras listed above, while adding some new features. Still on board are the commentary with director Jay Roach and editor Jon Poll, the "Surf & Turd" and "Crawlspace" deleted scenes, and the outtakes reel. New to the double-dip are a second outtakes reel (6 min.), a deleted scene entitled "De Niro Unplugged" (2 min.), the polygraph featurette "The Truth About Lying" (6 min.), the animal training featurette "Silly Cat Tricks" (5 min.), and the extraordinarily short and uninformative "Jay Roach: A Director's Profile" (2 min.).

You have been advised.

— Alexandra DuPont
dupont@dvdjournal.com



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