Meet The Parents

Meet The Parents (2000)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Robert DeNiro, Ben Stiller, Teri Polo
Extras: Commentary tracks, Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Games, Production Notes, Cast & Crew Biographies, Theatrical Trailer, Bonus Trailers

In the realm of film criticism, movies must sometimes be judged in the same way as just about anything else in life, that is, did it accomplish what it set out to do? For example, did the comedy make you laugh? Did the drama make you cry? When viewed in this light, "Meet the Parents", newly available on DVD from Universal Home Video, has to be considered one of the most successful films ever. It’s clear from the beginning that "Meet the Parents" has a comedic agenda and the movie sticks to its guns until the very end. While there may be some variation from viewer to viewer as to how well the movie is received, I think that most people would agree that "Meet the Parents" is one of the smartest, and arguably cruelest comedies to come along in quite a while.

Ben Stiller stars in "Meet the Parents" as Greg Focker. Greg is a male nurse who lives in Chicago, and has been dating Pam (Teri Polo). Greg is actually on the verge of proposing to Pam, when he learns that her family is very traditional and that he needs to ask for her father’s permission to propose. When Pam announces that they will be visiting her parents in order to attend her sister’s wedding, Greg decides that he will seize this opportunity as a time to talk to Pam’s dad. Poor Greg doesn’t know what he’s in for.

After some difficulties at the airport, Greg and Pam arrive at her parent’s house, where Greg is introduced to Pam’s Dad, Jack (Robert De Niro) and her mom, Dina (Blythe Danner). Jack immediately seems suspicious of Greg, but we assume that he is only being a protective father. While Greg does everything that he can to be the perfect gentleman and boyfriend, Murphy’s Law soon sets in, and Greg is overwhelmed with disasters. Every situation that Greg gets into, ends with him doing something destructive or embarrassing. To make matters worse, Jack is actually a retired CIA agent, and allows his immediate distrust of Greg turn into runaway paranoia. Is there anyway that Greg can survive the weekend with Pam’s parents and gain their permission to marry Pam?

As stated above, "Meet the Parents" is very good at what it does. And what it does is make the viewer incredibly uncomfortable, while we watch Greg foul up everything. In the tradition of "Halloween", "Reservoir Dogs", and "Misery", director Jay Roach cranks up the intensity throughout the film, inserting scenes of genuine hilarity to help relieve the discomfort. Granted, "Meet the Parents" is very predictable. Every time an important event/item/person is brought up, we know that Greg is going to end up wrecking it somehow. The film succeeds by having Greg’s misfortune typically go further than we could have ever imagined, without going over the top. Actually, considering that Roach helmed the two "Austin Powers" films, it’s amazing how restrained "Meet the Parents". With the exception of one scene (in which De Niro searches through a suitcase), the majority of humor in the film relies on clever writing, well-time acting, and pratfalls. And obviously, another thing that makes "Meet the Parents" work is its societal relevance. At least once in everyone’s life, they’ve been in a situation where they really wanted to look good and failed miserably. If you want to experience one of the wackiest parts of the film, begin the movie with the subtitles "ON", so that you can make out the insane lyrics, which are being sung over the Dreamworks logo.

The true power behind "Meet the Parents" are the actors. Ben Stiller has made a career out of playing the nervous, twitchy guy (he’s like a more sophisticated Woody Allen), and all of the experience pays off here. The audience understands why Greg is so nervous around Jack and his jittery performance helps to amplify the neurotic power of the film. Robert De Niro continues to show that he can succeed in comedic roles. His performance is full of subtle facial gestures and vocal changes that give his character an unpredictable quality. (Check De Niro’s facial expression at the 1:20:26 mark for one of the funniest moments in the film.) But, the real magic occurs when Stiller and De Niro play off of each other, pitting anxiety against hostility. "Meet the Parents" wins my "Terminator 2" award, which is given to films that would have been even better, had you not had certain information prior to viewing them. Just imagine you surprise if you hadn’t know that Travis Bickle was Pam’s Dad. Yikes! But, for me the character who stole the show was Jinx the Cat, whose bathroom habits and mantle-piece portraits provide some of the funniest moments in the film. Another highlight is Owen Wilson as Pam’s ex-boyfriend, and the man who can do no wrong. Also, attentive viewers may notice a familiar face at the far right of the screen at 4:09 point. Yes, that’s Spencer Breslin, star of "Disney’s The Kid."

As "Meet the Parents" was a box-office smash, it’s not surprising that the movie is part of Universal Home Video’s "Collector’s Edition" series. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>, and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. Overall, the image is sharp and clear, although it does get a bit soft at times. There are one or two noticeable defects from the source print and some slight grain, but these do not detract greatly from the viewing experience. The colors on this DVD are pleasing and warm, featuring natural-looking fleshtones and vibrant reds and greens. (I’ll reveal in a moment why colors were important to the film.) The framing appears to be accurate and there is no noise of interference from artifacting or compression. The video transfer isn’t perfect, but it is definitely above average.

The same goes for the audio tracks on "Meet the Parents". The DVD offers both a <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> track and a <$DTS,DTS> 5.1 track. As this isn’t an action film with constant sound effects or booming music, there really isn’t much difference between the two tracks. Both offer a nice sound field, with sparse, yet effective use of the surround sound speakers. We also get clear and audible dialogue (which is the most important thing in a film like this) and no hissing sound on the soundtrack. While some may be disappointed by the lack of bravado in this sound mix, I felt that it suited the film perfectly.

As with most of Universal’s "Collector’s Editions", "Meet the Parents" offers a house-full of extras. The DVD boasts two separate audio commentaries. The first features director Jay Roach and editor Jon Poll. This is a very informative and entertaining commentary as Roach speaks at length about the origins, production, and casting of "Meet the Parents". His comments are very scene specific and he gives a great deal of information about the untold story of each scene, with Poll offering his insights on how the film was cut together. In comparison, the second commentary, featuring Roach, Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, and producer Jane Rosenthal is very dull. Once again, Roach does most of the talking, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t want to and he attempts to gain responses from the other participants. Roach takes on the role of host, as he asks questions of Stiller and De Niro, but generally gets brief responses (with most of De Niro’s replies amounting to "yes" or "no"). This may have something to do with how the commentary was recorded. It was a live session, with Roach and Stiller in Los Angeles and De Niro and Rosenthal in New York. Maybe the distance contributed to sucking the spontaneity out of the discussion.

The Universal standard "Spotlight on Location" if featured on the "Meet the Parents" DVD. This 24-minute featurette gives us a great deal of behind-the-scenes footage, as well as interviews with the cast and crew. As with the average "Spotlight on Location", there are a lot of interesting tidbits revealed here, but two much of the running time is made up of clips from the movie. Next, we have two deleted scenes, which can be viewed with or without commentary by Roach and editor Poll. While both of these scenes are interesting, many more deleted scenes are mentioned throughout the commentaries, so one can’t help but wonder why they didn’t make it onto the DVD. We are then treated to 12-minutes of outtakes, most of which feature De Niro losing his composure. Rounding out the standard extras, we have Production Notes (which reveal that Jack’s house is subtly decorate in red, white, and blue, making the color balancing on the DVD rather important) and the theatrical trailer, which is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1 and presented in Dolby Digital 5.1.

There are two unique features on the DVD. The first is called "Take the Lie Detector", in which the viewer answers "yes" or "no" (using your remote) to a series of questions. However, it’s difficult to ascertain exactly what being measured here. Much more interesting is "The Forecaster", which offers a series of multiple-choice etiquette questions, concerning how one would react to the situations that Greg encounters in the film. Upon completion, you are giving an evaluation of the kind of personality that you have. It plays like a "Cosmo" quiz, but it’s still fun.

Now, I’ve saved the best for last. Universal Showcase is back! That’s right, more previews for upcoming theatrical releases. The "Meet the Parents" DVD has the trailer for "The Mummy Returns". It’s <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1 and is in Dolby Digital 5.1 and it rocks! (First in line!) And there’s also a trailer for "Captain Corelli’s Mandolin", which is a chick-flick with a bad title.

Movies in which sincere people constantly make mistakes typically make me nervous. Therefore, "Meet the Parents" left me an emotional wreck. Yet, I must admire the craftsmanship behind the film, and yes, the movie is very funny, offering some great comedic performances. The DVD offers a nice transfer of the film and many exciting special features that give us a wealth of knowledge about the making of the film. In case you hadn’t heard, a sequel, "Meet the Fockers", has already been announced. Personally, I want to see "Meet Jinx the Cat"!