Meet the Fockers
Director : Jay Roach
Screenplay : John Hamburg & Jim Herzfeld
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2004
Stars : Robert De Niro (Jack Byrnes), Ben Stiller (Greg Focker), Dustin Hoffman (Bernie Focker), Barbra Streisand (Roz Focker), Blythe Danner (Dina Byrnes), Teri Polo (Pam Byrnes), Spencer Pickren (Little Jack), Bradley Pickren (Little Jack), Alanna Ubach (Isabel), Ray Santiago (Jorge Villalobos), Tim Blake Nelson (Officer LeFlore), Shelley Berman (Judge Ira)
If Meet the Parents was about the horrors of trying to impress your girlfriend's parents and failing miserably at every turn, then its sequel, Meet the Fockers, is about the horrors of coming to terms with your own family. The film's comic foundation is the uneasiness we sometimes feel about our families; no matter how much we love them, there are always little things we wish were different, and in some situations those things, however miniscule, are magnified beyond all reasonable proportion.
It's rich material for a comedy of manners, but unfortunately Meet the Fockers doesn't quite live up to its premise or its predecessor. Meet the Parents worked because, despite its bawdy humor, it was firmly ground in recognizable truths about courtship and family life. The characters and situations were exaggerated for comedic purposes, but there was always that little nugget of truth inside, making it easy to identify with poor Greg Focker and everything he was willing to endure for love. Meet the Fockers, on the other hand, is so exaggerated that it veers wildly and awkwardly into pure, outlandish farce. This results in some genuine hilarity, but it loses any sense of poignancy so that, when it's time to "learn a lesson" at the end, it feels forced and contrived.
The story takes place two years after the events in Meet the Parents. Greg Focker (Ben Stiller), the well-meaning, but accident-prone male nurse who had to struggle in Sisyphus-like manner to gain the approval of his girlfriend Pam's (Teri Polo) stern, ex-CIA agent father Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro), is finally ready for them to meet his parents. So, along with Pam's ever-patient mother Dina (Blythe Danner) and their grandson from Pam's sister, Little Jack, everyone piles into Jack's RV--a "hotel on wheels," as one character puts it, that is also a rolling surveillance system--and drives from Long Island to Miami to, well, meet the Fockers.
Greg's parents are touchy-sensitive stay-at-home dad Bernie and brash sex therapist mom Roz, played in a bit of fantastic stunt casting by Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand. If Greg didn't quite fit in with the Byrnes, then Bernie and Roz positively clash with them. The two sets of parents are a study in polar opposites: closed-minded vs. open-minded, formal vs. informal, authoritative vs. loose, stern vs. loud, reserved vs. emotional, frigid vs. erotic, and, most importantly, vanilla vs. ethnic. Whereas Jack and Dina are well-scrubbed of any racial or ethnic signifiers, Bernie and Roz are loudly and proudly Jewish in a way that only Hoffman and Streisand could play. Their wild, outlandish personas, like their throwback '60s-cum-Miami trash wardrobes, would be straight caricatures if they weren't so inviting and loving.
Meet the Fockers, then, is primarily a comedy of culture clash, and everything is turned up a notch from its predecessor. The stakes are higher because it's not just one person trying to enter a family, but two families attempting to merge. Greg, of course, bears much of the burden of humiliation because Jack is too rigid to succumb to humiliation, Dina is to airy, Pam too dumbfounded, and Bernie and Roz too at home with themselves. Stiller has long since perfected the art of humorous emasculation, and here he takes on more than his fair share, much of which comes from his own parents, whose over-exuberant affection and candidness open the door for embarrassment after embarrassment. At the same time, though, Bernie and Roz are clearly held up as the people to emulate; by the end, Dina is taking sex advice from Roz and Jack is learning how to hug and kiss from Bernie.
Apart from staggering under the weight of clearly trying too hard, Meet the Fockers has a major stumbling block in a subplot involving a 15-year-old Hispanic boy who may or may not be Greg's illegitimate son. The subplot in and of itself is crass and feels extraordinarily out of place, but the movie is almost ground to a stop at a party in which the whole scenario is outed in a scene involving truth serum that is meant to be comical, but is instead excruciatingly unfunny, not to mention extraordinarily mean. The fact that this situation is never fully resolved, leaving the boy's humiliation hanging for the rest of the film while everything else is resolved puts a damper on the rest of the humor, leaving an aftertaste of mean-spiritedness that undermines the film's coming-together coda.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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