Meet the Fockers is the follow-up to the Jay Roach’s hugely successful and generally funny Meet the Parents (2000), where Robert De Niro was finally granted his life-long wish of graduating to comedy acting after trying desperately hard in Analyze This (1999), Analyze That (2002) and, uh, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000). That’s not to say Bob hasn’t been funny in previous movies, consider his darkly humorous Rubert Pupkin in Scorcese’s The King of Comedy (1983) and the goofball Harry Tuttle in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985), but Meet the Parents was where De Niro finally found his form and shook off the Mafia persona he’d riffed on for decades.
He was helped by Ben Stiller as the uptight Gaylord Focker, the prospective son-in-law to ex CIA man Jack Byrnes (De Niro). Nobody does uptight quite as well as Stiller, he’s made it an exquisite artform, and the interplay between Stiller’s anxious, eager to please Focker and the suspicious Byrnes was superb. Everything that could go wrong when Gaylord Focker’s fiancé Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo) takes him to meet her parents did go wrong, and most of the enjoyment in the movie was watching Stiller squirm in a variety of uncomfortable situations.
The inevitable sequel has now rolled into town and doesn’t mess with the formula, it just serves up more of the same by giving Gaylord embarrassing parents and bringing the whole Byrnes family over to meet them before the wedding. And again, the fun is watching Stiller become more and more wound up by things he can’t control.
Dustin Hoffman is a gifted comedic actor, who was superb in I Heart Huckabees(2004), if slightly adrift in the existential script, but comes to life as Bernie Focker, an ex civil rights lawyer who gave up practising to become a stay at home father. Hoffman clearly relishes the role, and his infectious enthusiasm lights up the screen whenever he appears.
Barbara Streisand, who plays Gaylord’s mom Roz Focker, is a sex therapist who works with old people, putting some zip back into their marriage. This is Streisand’s first movie role for almost ten years, but she has so much zest you’d think she’d been churning out comedies for the last decade.
Together Roz and Bernie are casual, progressive parents, the antithesis of Jack and Dina Byrnes and their uptight, secretive nature. It’s a battle between liberalism and conservatism, Jews and Gentiles, the unconventional and the traditional, with Gaylord stuck in the middle trying to please both sides and failing miserably.
There are some great set-pieces, such as a supposedly friendly game of touch football (“Dina, you and I will take on Jack and Roz. Come on, Jack, it’ll be fun – we’ll swap wives.”), a dinner where Gaylord’s dried, shrivelled foreskin from his circumcision (that his parents have proudly kept) ends up in the fondue, and a sub-plot where Jack becomes convinced that Gaylord might already be a father.
Everybody seems to be having a great time in the movie it seems churlish to criticise it, but somehow it doesn’t feel as funny as it could be. I laughed, but not as much as I wanted to. Perhaps some of the jokes were just too familiar from the first movie (a problem that the Austin Powers franchise suffered from, also directed by Jay Roach), perhaps it was because I’d recently seen Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy which is hysterically funny from beginning to end and Meet the Fockers slightly pales in comparison.
But I’ve yet to see a bad Ben Stiller movie (okay, there’s Mystery Men (1999), but that’s an anomaly and seems to be gathering cult status for reasons beyond me), so you can be sure that you will enjoy this film. Put it this way, if you liked the first movie, the chances are good that you’ll like this one, too.
Meet the Fockers (2004)
Dir. Jay Roach
Stars: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbara Streisand, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo, Owen Wilson