'Meet the Parents' was, in my memory at least, an innocuous comedy, full of pratfalls and misunderstandings, that was based, at least partially, on the real-world scenario of being freaked out to first meet your significant other's parents. Ben Stiller was the goofy guy, Teri Polo his attractive girlfriend (who he wants to propose to) and Robert De Niro played her father, a tough-as-nails former-CIA agent who would go to any means necessary to convince himself that Stiller was a weasel. (Blythe Danner played De Niro's wife and Polo's mother, while Owen Wilson played Polo's significantly more successful ex.)
When it came out in 2000, it was a huge financial success, racking up nearly $350 million. It was one of those movies that was good for the holidays because it wouldn't offend anybody and you could take your whole family. Looking back on it now though, well, woof.
The set-up itself is promising, in the admittedly loose form of modern romantic comedies, but man does it devolve quickly. These types of movies, in which anything that can go wrong does go wrong, are always walk a fine tonal line. I'd argue that something like 'The Money Pit' is the "right" way to do one of these projects. The problem with 'Meet the Parents' is that it always goes for the easiest joke or gag and nothing feels earned, so that instead of letting the cartoonish nature of the situations build on a half-realistic scenario (say, getting the jitters about meeting your future in-laws), they events become so oversized that whatever tether there was to the real world slips away, and all you're left with is potty humor and De Niro doing his "funny" shtick.
Two things really stuck out as being crass and unnecessary this time around (I mean, this should all be taken with a grain of salt coming from Jay Roach, the "mastermind" behind the 'Austin Powers' films) – One, is the movie's uncomfortable insistence on making the Stiller character squirm because he's Jewish. There's a prolonged dinner sequence where his character is forced to say grace and I thought to myself, "Is this really something people consider funny?"
The other really icky thing that struck me this time around is the movie's homophobia/gender unease. There are countless jokes made about Ben Stiller's character being a nurse (and, later, when it's revealed that his real name is Gaylord). There are a number of secondary characters (played by really good actors like 'Station Agent' director Tom McCarthy and character actor extraordinaire James Rebhorn) who mock Stiller because he hasn't become a doctor, implying that the position of nurse is one designed exclusively for women. What year is this? (Or, at least, what year was it?) This kind of bullshit reinforcement of gender stereotypes is the reason we have such screwed-up cultural constraints in the first place. It's infuriating.
But, now, getting off my soap box for a moment (or two), the rest of 'Meet the Parents,' even the parts that didn't rub me raw, don't work particularly well either. Stiller's stuttering goon act has grown old in the nearly ten years since 'Parents' release, and while De Niro gives it his all (this was before atrocities like 'Showtime'), he can't compensate for the weak script, which was reportedly rewritten throughout production. The fact that the film has spawned an entire franchise for Universal and Dreamworks is even more mind-boggling (according to a quick Google search, in addition to two sequels of diminishing returns, the film also inspired two separate television series – one reality show and one sitcom).
If you like uncomfortable humor with a dash of homophobia, sexism, and cultural insensitivity thrown in for good measure, then you've come to the right place. 'Meet the Parents' hasn't aged well, and the simplicity and bone-headedness of its comedy stand out now as sore relics unworthy of revisiting. There are a couple of standout moments, when cleverness trumps crudity (like when an airline attendant spends an endless amount of time typing into a computer), but those moments are few and far between. Instead, give 'The Money Pit' another rent. It's funny because the house is a shit-hole.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Meet the Parents' comes out on Blu-ray just in time for the new sequel, 'Little Fockers,' on a 50GB Blu-ray disc that is BD-Live enabled and Region A locked. (Included in the box is a $10 voucher towards your movie ticket for the new movie. Lucky you!)
The VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer (aspect ratio: 1.85:1) isn't exactly pretty either.
For one thing, the film was shot using the go-to visual palette for a comedy, which is to say, blast everything with light and hope for the best. This results in a largely flat look for the film, one in which everyone is blown out and details relatively obscured. The Blu-ray has retained this look, but added the subtle glow of our favorite – DNR! That's right folks! Ben Stiller now looks like he's wearing a cheap Ben Stiller Halloween mask! Isn't that fun?
There is an increase in detail, particularly in textures, and skin tones (the ones that haven't been futzed with) look somewhat lifelike. There isn't a whole lot of good to say about this transfer, besides the fact that it probably looked a whole lot like how it was exhibited in theaters.
If you're looking for a reason to upgrade your DVD copy of 'Meet the Parent's to Blu-ray based on the transfer alone, then you should back off.
Additionally, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix isn't exactly going to wow you either. Now a lot of critics have been giving the mix, and its lack of surround sound activity, a pass, since it's a dialogue-driven comedy, but that isn't exactly true.
Yes, there is a large part of the movie that is just talking (for better or worse) but there are sequences, like the water volleyball sequence, which could command a fair amount of dimensionality. The fact is, though, that the mix fails to deliver in these sequences. Dialogue is crisp and clear and always, always well prioritized (you'll never have to turn up the dial to understand what anyone is saying), but it's comedies with big, broad set pieces that should get the active sound mixes. Sadly, this one falls flat.
There are additional audio mixes in French DTS 5.1 and Spanish DTS 5.1, as well as subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish.
The disc is BD-Live equipped but as of this writing, the only additional feature is a trailer for the new 'Little Fockers' movie (and, I'm sorry, but a trailer for a new movie isn't a special feature; it's a commercial). Additionally, the box art proudly proclaims the merits of Pocket BLU, wherein you can control the disc via your iPhone or Blackberry. When my Blackberry heard about this nonsense, it promptly self-destructed. All of the special features found on this disc can also be found on the standard DVD that was released many moons ago. The special features haven't even been bumped up to high definition. Boo.
'Meet the Parents,' which was a charming-enough comedy when it was released back in 2000, hasn't aged particularly well. And this Blu-ray release, with substandard audio and video and a tired collection of special features won't change anybody's mind. Had Universal put a little more oomph behind this release it would have been passably recommendable. As it stands, you should just stick with your DVD if you're a fan.