Meet the Parents


Meet the Parents

Robert De Niro wants to make sure Ben Stiller isn’t lying when he says that he’s his favorite dramatic actor.

(2000) Comedy (Universal) Ben Stiller, Robert de Niro, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner, Nicole deHuff, Owen Wilson, Phyllis George, James Rebhorn, Jon Abrahams, Thomas McCarthy, Judah Friedlander, William Severs, Kali Rocha, John Fiore. Directed by Jay Roach

 

It is true of all long-term intimate relationships that you are not only with your partner, are with your partner’s family as well (and they with yours). There is nothing more terrifying for a prospective groom than meeting the mom and dad for the first time with them eying you not as a boyfriend but as the husband for their daughter. Believe me, I know — I’ve been there.

Greg Focker (Stiller) is a male nurse facing this very prospect. He is head-over-heels in love with Pamela Byrnes (Polo) and is intent on marrying her, but wants to do it the right way. Before he asks her, he wants to ask her dad first. And for you guys thinking of asking daddy for her little girl’s hand, consider the nightmare it would be if daddy happened to be de Niro. As in Robert. Yup. Someone get the smelling salts please.

Focker does his best to make a good impression, but he is in a household made chaotic by the impending marriage of Pamela’s sister (deHuff), the presence of her medically-snobbish in-laws-to-be (George and Rebhorn) and Pamela’s somewhat put-upon mother (Danner). Things keep going wrong for poor Greg. And then they get worse. By the time things come to a head, your sides will be sore with laughter.

Stiller, on the strength of this film and There’s Something About Mary, has become one of Hollywood’s most bankable comedians. His likable boy-next-door style reminds me, oddly enough, of silent star Harold Lloyd, without the physicality. De Niro, who exhibited heretofore unknown comic talents in Analyze This, continues to lampoon his own image with hilarious results. Wilson, who has since made a career out of playing the laconic second banana shines here; he’s not so much a second banana as a comic foil here, the perfect ex who makes Greg look more and more like a schmuck with each incident.

My beef with the movie is that Greg, who is a plenty smart guy, turns into a raging idiot once the action begins. I can understand how the need to impress your prospective in-laws might lead you to doing some things you might not ordinarily, but Greg as a nurse didn’t strike me as particularly irresponsible – why would he be completely irresponsible in the in-law situation to the point of irrationality? That didn’t jive with me and was really the one part of the film I had trouble reconciling.

Even if you don’t like the Farrelly Brothers, whose style Meet the Parents most closely resembles, you’ll find yourself laughing out loud hysterically at some of the more inspired gags. There’s one bit involving a cat and an urn that literally turned the Da Queen and I purple from laughter. It’s very therapeutic (although those with parental remains in their home may cringe). There is definitely a more 90s comedic feel here but it never devolves into schtick which some comedies from the era did. While there is plenty of slapstick it didn’t strike me as particularly low-brow, sort of a happy medium more like.

Meet the Parents is vulgar in places (but not as much as, say, The Hangover) but it’s screwball at heart. It’s one of the funniest movies of its era, certainly far more successful in creating laughs than its two successors in the series. If life is stressing you out, an evening watching Meet the Parents could be just the tonic you need.

WHY RENT THIS: Stiller is at the top of his game. Really, really funny in places. One of the best comedies of its era.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Stiller’s character acts unbelievably dumb in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is some sexuality, a bit of bad language and some drug references.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The name “Focker” was suggested by Jim Carrey who was at one time attatched to the property in the role Stiller eventually took. The MPAA wouldn’t allow the use of the name however until the filmmakers found at least one person with that surname, which they did.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: All DVD editions include a Blooper reel. The DVD Bonus and Blu-Ray editions includes a scene of DeNiro singing “Love is in the Air,” a featurette on the training of the cat that played Mr. Jinx and a featurette on polygraph testing. The DVD Collectors edition includes none of those, but does have two interactive games.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $330.4M on a $55M production budget; the movie was a big time blockbuster.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: There’s Something About Mary

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Looper

Advertisements

Win Win


Win Win

This could be a poster for the generational gap

(2011) Dramedy (Fox Searchlight) Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Melanie Lynskey, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Alex Shaffer, Burt Young, Margo Martindale, David Thompson, Mike Diliello, Nina Arianda, Marcia Haufrecht, Sharon Wilkins. Directed by Thomas McCarthy

 

We sometimes find ourselves at an ethical crossroads and find ourselves pushing the line out a little bit in order to make things work. Those kinds of boundary pushing have consequences, albeit sometimes unintended ones.

Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) is a genuinely good man who is enduring an especially rough patch. His elder law practice is crashing and burning and the financial fall-out from that is severe, leading to anxiety attacks while out jogging with his best friend Terry Delfino (Cannavale). Mike is the coach of the local high school wrestling team and a more woeful bunch of athletes you are unlikely to meet; their season is going down in flames and although Mike is a decent coach, the writing is most definitely on the wall. Of course, his assistants are Delfino and Stephen Vigman (Tambor) who is a CPA who shares the dilapidated office building with Mike which should tell you something about his good-guy-making-bad-decisions persona.

Mike is representing Leo Poplar (Young), who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. The state wants to put him in a care facility but Leo wants to stay home. Mike discovers that Leo’s living will allows for a guardian in the event that Leo becomes unable to make decisions on his own and that the guardianship will pay $1500 a month to cover expenses. Mike petitions the judge (Wilkins) to allow him to be Leo’s guardian since they’ve been unable to locate Leo’s daughter. The judge allows this and Mike then turns Leo over to the facility anyway so he can pocket the expense money which will keep him somewhat solvent.

Then Kyle (Shaffer) shows up. Kyle is Leo’s grandson and came to town hoping Leo could put him up. Mike, feeling a little guilty, takes Kyle in which Mike’s wife Jackie (Ryan) whole-heartedly supports. It turns out that Kyle’s mom, Leo’s daughter Cindy (Lynskey) is in rehab, a drug addict who has been an unreliable caregiver. This sets Jackie’s dander up, but what floats Mike’s boat is that Kyle is also an Ohio wrestling state champion. Mike arranges for Kyle to be enrolled in his high school and adds Kyle to his team, instantly turning the program around. Seems to be a win-win situation for everyone, right?

Wrong. Cindy shows up and she wants to take Kyle back to Ohio. Worse still, she wants guardianship of her father, not so much the responsibility (which she would be unlikely to be able to handle anyway) but the money that goes with it. Of course this turns everything upside-down; Kyle is happy being part of a stable family and he mistrusts and despises his mother but he also wants Leo out of the facility and back in his home where he belongs. Mike’s web is quickly unraveling.

McCarthy has previously directed The Station Agent and The Visitor which are both very fine films, and you can add this to his filmography of movies that will stay with you long after the final credits roll. The characters aren’t indie film archetypes who appear in movie after movie; they are people with their own unique set of characteristics and who behave realistically in realistic situations. Most of us will relate to Mike’s financial predicament because most of us have been there or are there now.

Giamatti is one of those actors who almost always gives a terrific performance and along with his work in Barney’s Version of late seems to be at the top of his game, impressive at every turn. He’s become one of my favorite actors, one who can get my butt into a theater seat just because he’s in the movie. He makes Mike not just an everyman, but a believable one; a basically decent man pushed to the wall to make decisions that aren’t necessarily good ones but expedient ones. I think we all have done that at least once in our lives.

Ryan is also wonderful, playing Jackie as equally good-hearted and supportive but strong – she takes no crap but at the same time her heart goes out to a boy who has had a rough go. She’s like a she-bear whose cubs are threatened when her family – which includes Kyle – is threatened and why Mike leaves her in the dark about what’s really going on is understandable in that he wants to spare her the anxiety he is feeling, but also not in that his wife would be a solid rock. Ryan makes you wish you had a wife like her if you don’t have one, and if you do have one, count your blessings.

Shaffer has been receiving a lot of attention with his performance and for good reason. He is a natural and has great screen presence. You’d never know this was his first feature film, so natural is he before the camera. Like any first-timer there are some rough patches but this kid has some amazing potential and if he chooses to go this road, he certainly is going to be someone to keep an eye on.

The ending was a bit sitcom-ish for my tastes but that’s really one of the few bumps in the road that this movie takes us on. There are some wonderful supporting performances, particularly from Tambor, Young and Cannavale as well as Lynskey who has a pretty thankless role but does it well.

McCarthy is developing an impressive library of movies with his name on them and is a director that is rapidly becoming one who I’ll go out of my way to see sight unseen. He certainly has made another film here that is one of those quiet gems that you don’t hear much about but turns out to be well worth checking out. This is one worth finding at your local video or streaming emporium.

WHY RENT THIS: Giamatti and Ryan are terrific with some good support performances. A sweet film that doesn’t sugarcoat the hard choices. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit formulaic in the ending.

FAMILY VALUES: The language gets pretty rough in places and there are some allusions to drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Shaffer’s feature film debut; he was a New Jersey State wrestling champion in 2010 as a sophomore in high school but his wrestling career came to a close when he broke an L-5 vertebra.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The DVD edition has a music video from The National for their closing credits song “Think You Can Wait.” The Blu-Ray edition adds a Sundance tour by actor David Thompson and a brief interview of McCarthy and Giamatti, also from Sundance.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $10.8M on an unreported production budget; it is likely that the movie made a good chunk of change relatively speaking.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer

Jack Goes Boating


Jack Goes Boating

Amy Ryan tries to be polite but can't hide her confusion when Phillip Seymour Hoffman launches into a Kenneth Mars impression.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Overture) Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Thomas McCarthy, Lola Glaudini, Richard Petrocelli, Salvatore Inzerillo, Harry L. Seddon, Shawna Barmender.  Directed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Who can say why two people that shouldn’t be together end up that way, while two people who should be together don’t. The mysteries of human interrelationships would baffle Steven Hawking (and probably does) since so much of it is inexplicable. There are no scientific formulas to explain the human heart.

Jack (Hoffman) is a mild-mannered limo driver for his uncle’s (Petrocelli) company. His best friend is Clyde (Ortiz) whom he’s known since they were kids. Jack has ambitions to work for the MTA in New York City (where they live) but nobody really believes he can pass the test needed to become an MTA driver. Jack lives alone, has no girlfriend and most of his social life revolves around Clyde and his girlfriend Lucy (Rubin-Vega). Lucy, while fond of Jack, doesn’t want him around quite so much and thinks a girlfriend would be just the ticket to give him a life of her own.

Lucy works at a funeral home with Connie (Ryan), a woman who might just be as shy as Jack is. Like Jack, she is alone (although not nearly as dependent on others as Jack is). Clyde and Lucy decide to get the two together.

Surprisingly they get on very nicely and Connie remarks to Jack that she wants to go boating in Central Park. Since it’s the beginning of winter, that indicates an interest in a long term relationship. However Jack doesn’t particularly want to go boating – he can’t swim. Clyde offers to teach Jack how to swim, since Jack is eager to continue seeing Connie.

Jack also wants to cook Connie a meal in the meantime, which is quite an undertaking for a guy who doesn’t know how to microwave popcorn. He gets some lessons but when the big dinner date arrive (Clyde and Lucy are also invited), things go horribly awry. Still, Jack and Connie seem to get closer and closer – and as they do, Clyde and Lucy begin to drift farther and farther apart.

Not only does Hoffman appear in this as the lead actor, but he also directed the movie (based on Robert Glaudini’s stage play of the same name – Glaudini also wrote the screenplay) which is difficult enough. He is in nearly every scene and is the center of the action. That can be good and bad; while Jack is out to improve himself and improve the quality of his life, he is taking baby steps for the most part; for the audience viewing this it can be downright irritating.

I’m not saying watching a shy man change his life is inherently boring – it’s not – but as depicted here the more interesting characters tend to be the ones on the periphery. Clyde, Lucy and Connie all held my attention more readily than Jack did, a bad sign.

Still, the movie has a sweet charm to it that helps offset the lack of inertia. Hoffman does shy and awkward as well as anyone, and he does it here nicely. Jack isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier but he has a good heart. Connie is much smarter than he is but just as socially awkward. Ryan gives her a sweet and sexy quality that is self-conscious but totally believable.

Ortiz for me was the most interesting performance. A little bit smarmy, totally 100% New York, Clyde has the best of intentions but is derailed by his own failings. His heart is in the right place but he can’t get past his weakness for marijuana, nor his jealousy of Lucy’s past infidelities.

There is a scene near the end of the movie when the two couples are at Clyde and Lucy’s apartment which is as awkward as any I’ve ever seen in a movie (awkward in a good way). It is the most powerful scene in the movie and as Connie tries desperately to pull Jack away from the train wreck that is occurring, you are right there with her. It is in this moment where Hoffman shows the potential of being a really good director.

This isn’t a movie that’s going to reveal a lot of new insights into love or life; it’s just a look inside two relationships and four lives. It does give a sense of how it is to live and work in New York, which is always welcome. It also is charming and sweet at times, awkward and irritating at others. Just like real life.

WHY RENT THIS: The relationships are believable and the one between Jack and Connie is sweet.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie lacks inertia.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of cursing, a smidgeon of drug use and some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hoffman originated the role of Jack in the stage production.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on how the process of adapting the movie from a stage play into a film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $619,570 on an unreported production budget; the movie was most likely a flop.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: 30 Minutes or Less

Mammoth


Mammoth

This is the kind of penthouse view you can only see in movies.

(2009) Drama (IFC) Gael Garcia Bernal, Michelle Williams, Sophie Nyweide, Marife Necesito, Tom McCarthy, Run Srinikornchot, Jan David G. Nicdao, Martin de los Santos, Maria Esmeralda del Carmen, Perry Dizon, Joseph Mydell. Directed by Lukas Moodysson

The world doesn’t exist in a vacuum; what happens in New York might well ordain what happens in Luzon, or Bombay or Bangkok for that matter. Even our most insignificant actions in other words have consequences.

Leo (Bernal), Ellen (Williams) and their daughter Jackie (Nyweide) are a happy family. Sunday mornings are comprised of family tickle fests in their expensive Manhattan loft. Still, even a good tickle fest must come to an end and Leo, a video game designer, must jet off to Thailand with his business partner Bob (McCarthy) to sign a multi-million dollar deal that will make the already wealthy Leo even wealthier. Since Bob is the business end of the partnership, Leo has little to do but show up and smile; after doing too much sightseeing he begins to get bored.

Ellen is none too fond of Leo’s absence and her stressful position as a pediatric E.R doctor. She is suffering from insomnia, much of it due to sexual frustration but also due to a case that she’s handling in the E.R. of a child who was stabbed in the stomach by her own mother. She is also feeling disconnected from her daughter, a feeling that is further heightened by Jackie’s growing closeness with her nanny.

Gloria (Necesito), the said nanny, hails from the Philippines and has two boys there – Salvador (Nicdao) and Manuel (de los Santos) who miss her terribly and beg her to come home whenever she calls. She sends most of her earnings home to them to build them a home of their own (they live with Gloria’s mother) and put them through college eventually so they can make a better life for themselves. Jackie is latching onto her because she is basically the only one paying attention to her and treating her like a person. Gloria for her part teaches her Tagolog and takes her to the planetarium, which is Jackie’s favorite place.

The distance between Leo, Ellen and Jackie is growing and Leo finds that he is being tempted by a sweet Thai prostitute named, ironically enough, Cookie (Srinikornchot) who has a daughter of her own. There are a lot of mama issues in this movie.

Swedish director Moodysson (in his English language debut) has taken a lot of heat for implying the link between women working and child issues. Quite frankly he has a point there – women are being forced more and more into the workplace and something has to suffer for it and generally, it’s the relationship with their kids that has to take a back burner simply because they aren’t around as much. It’s not an indictment of women, gang, it’s just a statement of fact.

Bernal is a greatly underrated actor best known for his work in Y Tu Mama Tambien. His role is the least defined of the three members of the family but Bernal makes it memorable. He plays the husband as conflicted and a little bit weak-willed. He is guilty about his fling with Cookie and guilty about deserting his family but a little fuzzy on what’s really going on with his wife and daughter.

Williams, so good in Wendy and Lucy, shows that she has the ability to do an abundance of roles. Self-assured as a surgeon she is nonetheless flawed and occasionally unsure of herself as a woman. She is jealous of Gloria’s closeness to her daughter but doesn’t know how to develop that closeness herself. Instead, she finds herself giving that tenderness to the daughter of another mother. Williams owns the role the same way she owned the role of Wendy in the previous film; and the two roles could not be more different. I see statuettes and red carpets in her future.

The soundtrack is magnificent and uses songs by the electropop band Ladytron effectively to create upbeat moods, which the movie needs in places. It creeps along most of the time and has a languorous pace that can use the occasional shot of adrenaline and Ladytron supplies that nicely.

While the women play the pivotal roles in this movie, I came away thinking it was more about the way families drift apart in the modern world, given the demands of work and of human interactions. In that sense, this is a movie that hits the mark nicely, but it takes a long time to get down a short road and some might find that infuriating. Whether you agree with all of Moodysson’s conclusions is kind of beside the point. It’s whether or not you’ll enjoy the journey and I think it can go either way for most people. It’s worth taking the time to find out if you’re one of those who’ll like it though.

WHY RENT THIS: Fine performances by Bernal and Williams. Establishes dialogue regarding privilege and those who support it. Nice use of Ladytron on the soundtrack.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Moves at a glacial pace not unlike the title creature. Some will find the movie’s plot controversial and its conclusions unpalatable.

FAMILY VALUES: There are adult themes going on here and some scenes where children are put in jeopardy.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed in Thailand, the Philippines, Sweden and New York City.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.8M on an unreported production budget; I’d guess the movie broke even or thereabouts.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Bedazzled (2000)