With the new film Little Fockers, it is time to re-publish my Meet the Fockers film review (below), which opened in 2005.
Directed by Jay Roach
Starring Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Teri Polo and Blythe Danner
The film “Meet the Parents” took a simple idea – mild-mannered guy meets his girlfriend’s scary parents – and turned it into a great hit comedy. Much of the humour came from the match-up between Ben Stiller as Greg Focker the Jewish nurse and Robert De Niro as Jack Byrnes the retired and suspicious CIA agent. “Meet the Fockers” is an unashamed sequel, this time bringing Jack, his wife Dina (Blythe Danner) and their Greg’s now-finance Pam (Teri Polo) to meet Greg’s parents in their Florida island retreat.
“Meet the Fockers” operates as something as a “Jewish high concept” film, if there can be such a thing. In the same way that Arnold Schwarzenegger paired up with Danny DeVito in “Twins”, the producers of “Fockers” plucked two ultimate Jewish parents for Ben Stiller’s character: Dustin Hoffman as dad Bernie and Barbra Streisand as mom Roz. As their only son, Greg (who we now learn is named Gaylord) is put upon by these two expressive Jewish parents in numerous embarrassing ways. My personal favourite is shrine which they have built to Greg’s achievements, including ninth-place ribbons, his bar mitzvah tallis and kippah and other artifacts too hilarious to summarise here.
Roz is a couples sex therapist, catering to the mostly Jewish ageing but spry couples populating their part of the world, and Bernie was a lawyer who retired when Greg was born to become a full-time dad. Was it his parents’ over-attention that has now driven Greg/Gaylord into the arms of a woman from a truly uptight WASP family? (I guess we don’t want to go there; be assured that the film does not.) Where “Meet the Parents” was primarily a Stiller/De Niro pairing, after a bit of initial prancing around, Hoffman and Streisand get to do the major comedy (and steal the film) in “Meet the Fockers”, with Hoffman’s character probably his best acting (and certainly his most exuberant) in many years. Watching these two on-screen is worth the price of admission alone. Stiller, by contrast is left with relatively little to do – although he plays “discomfort” very well, and gets to be pretty uncomfortable around his on-screen parents. Polo and Danner, both excellent actors, are no more than window dressing for the main action.
As for De Niro, his self-parody routine of his classic tough guy image brings nothing new, but consider this: for whatever reason, his primary foils in these types of comedies are Jewish – Billy Crystal (“Analyze This” and “Analyze That”), Stiller in “Parents” and now Hoffman/Streisand in “Fockers” (which is much more up front about Greg’s being Jewish). What interesting cultural stereotypes we are watching to unfold.
This is not great film-making (and reinforces some interesting notions about Jewish assimilation and intermarriage – check out the wedding scene with a cameo from Owen Wilson), but I confess to enjoying “Fockers” enormously. There are great comic bits with the Jack and Dina’s year-old grandson – along for the ride with some great comic acting (how did he do it?). The Focker family dog “Moses” meets the Byrnes family cat Jinx, with an obligatory flushing scene that most people have probably seen in the previews by now. There are a couple of sidelights which don’t work (notably with a former Hispanic maid of the Fockers), but I forgave this film its many faults just to be able to watch some of my favourite Jewish actors – Stiller, Hoffman and Streisand – play Jewish roles in a funny film.