meet the parents(2000)
director: jay roach
ben stiller, robbert deniro

. Ben Stiller’s look of constant discomfort -- essential to the success of There’s Something About Mary -- helps him ride through this toothless comedy about one of life’s grimmer rituals.

Stiller’s talent as a comic relies on his ability to be his own straight man. Everything he says, every stifled grimace or disbelieving double-take, suggests that he’s prone to failure and given to insincerity and relentless irony as a defence mechanism. No matter how much you sympathize with him, you know he’s going to suffer for everything he does. 

It’s a perfect persona for this movie, about a young man who accompanies his girlfriend home to meet her family. He’s a male nurse. Her father is an ex-CIA man, her family a typically repressed, baby-talking WASP nightmare of the “perfect family”. Most of the movie concerns itself with his battle of wills with her father, played in placidly threatening but automatic mode by Robert DeNiro.

There are moments that suggest a darker, more satirical take on the American family, but they’re overwhelmed by the inevitable dilution of meanness and ill-will in the triumph of true love. Any sane man would flee from potential in-laws this batty, but not in an American film, where the logical end to all drama is marriage.