MEET THE FOCKERS (2004)
Starring Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner, Owen Wilson, Spencer Pickren, Bradley Pickren, Alanna Ubach, Ray Santiago, Tim Blake Nelson, Shelley Berman, Kali Rocha, Dorie Barton, Jack Plotnick, Wayne Thomas Yorke, B.J. Hansen and J.P. Manoux.
Screenplay by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg.
Directed by Jay Roach.
Distributed by Universal Pictures. 116 minutes. Rated PG-13.
First things first. Meet the Fockers is better than its predecessor, Meet the Parents.
That’s not saying much, of course. Meet the Parents was a long line of toilet jokes broken up by a little odd couple humor from Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro. Fockers is much funnier, for two specific reasons.
Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand.
These two old pros come in and the fun they are having is infectious. They know that they’re better than the material, so they throw themselves into their slightly stereotypical roles with such gusto, with such obvious joie de vivre, that it is contagious. When these two are on the screen, you can’t help but smile.
It makes you wish they were on the whole film. They aren’t of course. Because when the so-called stars (Stiller and De Niro) are driving the vehicle, it is not nearly as much fun. De Niro’s character Jack Byrne in particular is a case of a little going a long way.
As we saw in the first film, Jack is a former-CIA operative who goes nuts when his daughter (Teri Polo) gets engaged to a slightly nerdy male nurse, Greg Focker (Stiller). In the end of the old film, it seemed that Jack and Greg had come to a bit of an understanding. So, it is a bit of a surprise that as Meet the Fockers starts, they are just about back at square one.
For a little while it is funny. Jack’s slow burns and Greg’s desperate juggling to keep his future father-in-law liking him does have a certain comic power. However, the film really starts to come together when the group goes to Florida to meet Greg’s parents.
Rosalind and Bernie Focker (and the last name isn’t any funnier in this movie than it was in the first, though it gets even more airtime) are the opposite of WASP-y Jack and his repressed, lonely wife (Blythe Danner). Rosalind and Bernie are loud, liberal, very Jewish and very open about everything. Greg bends over backwards to make sure that his parents don’t embarrass him in front of his new in-laws. He tries to hide the fact that Bernie was a stay-at-home dad and Rosalind is a well-known sex therapist for seniors. He tries to make them act more like the Byrnes, quiet, intense, secretive.
At one point, Rosalind Focker tells Greg that she is tired of not being herself because her son wants to make sure that Jack likes them; instead Greg should be worried whether his parents like Jack. The audience can’t help but think she’s absolutely right. The Fockers may be loud and boisterous and a little tacky, but they are also alive, passionate, feeling human beings. Jack is an uptight, selfish, smug jerk. Who should feel superior to whom?
By now, the film has become a bit of a retread of the first, with embarrassing things happening to Greg and De Niro snarling at him. Unnecessary complications are thrown at the screen – like a surprise pregnancy, the return of a former girlfriend and a former boyfriend, a teenaged child who may possibly be Greg’s, a party full of Fockers and the pushing up of the wedding date. However, the film really comes alive when Bernie tries desperately to connect with his grown son and when Rosalind teaches Jack’s repressed wife the joy of sex and Yiddish terms.
Eventually, even Jack is seduced by the love and the zany life force of the Fockers. At least until the next film, when he will undoubtedly be back to square one yet again, just because there is no story to tell otherwise. Of course, there is no more story to tell about these families either way. However, with this film’s popularity, it’s almost inevitable that the Byrnes and the Fockers will get back together, most likely for Meet the Baby.
Does a slight movie like Meet the Fockers really deserve to have a cast made up of two of the best actors of their generation, and arguably the best female singer? Probably not. But all the talent in front of the camera makes the problems with the movie a whole lot easier to take. (12/04)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 16, 2004