Meet The Parents
An actor with the presence and acting chops of a leading man and the fearlessness of a great physical comedian, Ben Stiller has a unique ability to make even the most far-fetched bit of slapstick seem plausible, painful, and embarrassing on an almost visceral level. It's a gift that worked wonders in There's Something About Mary, and it's put to good use in Meet The Parents, which milks Stiller's knack for frighteningly realistic slapstick humiliation for all it's worth. Directed by Jay Roach (Austin Powers), it stars Stiller as an essentially decent but unambitious nurse who meets the wealthy family of his beloved girlfriend (Teri Polo) for the first time the weekend of her sister's wedding. A runty, ethnic underachiever in a sea of strapping, overachieving, J. Crew-clad alpha males, Stiller feels intimidated, particularly when Polo's already-imposing father (Robert De Niro) is revealed to be a longtime spy-hunter for the CIA. More superficial and less rewarding than Elaine May's The Heartbreak Kid, which it periodically resembles, Meet The Parents taps a similar vein of assimilation-minded anxiety about class and religion, lending gravity and depth to what would otherwise be a featherweight comedy of errors. The film isn't shy about setting up gags far in advance—when a vase filled with De Niro's mother's ashes is introduced, it doesn't take Nostradamus to predict its fate—but it's a tribute to De Niro and Stiller that Meet The Parents works anyway. As in the similarly solid Analyze This, De Niro plays it relatively straight, crafting an almost sympathetic depiction of an aging, control-obsessed professional out of what could easily have been a cartoonish caricature of authoritarianism run amok. It runs out of inspiration shortly before a contrived climax, but Meet The Parents is still one of the funniest, most perceptive comedies in a lackluster year for film in general and comedy in particular.