A film review by Craig J. Koban

MEET THE FOCKERS jjj

2004, PG-13, 104 mins.

Jack Byrnes: Robert De Niro / Greg Focker: Ben Stiller / Bernie Focker: Dustine Hoffman / Roz Focker: Barbara Steisand / Dina Byrnes: Blthye Danner / Pam Byrnes: Teri Polo / Kevin Rawley: Owen Wilson

Directed by Jay Roach / Written by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg

Anyone that does not think that Ben Stiller is the current heavyweight King of Cinematic Comedy may be in need of taking a reality pill.  

His film resume from 2004 alone proves his worth, and he has been headlining some of this year’s most humorous comedies.  There was ALONG CAME POLLY from this January, not a  riot, but a film with some consistent and genuine laughs (including one uproariously funny moment where Stiller and Phillip Seymour Hoffman attend an art exhibit and Stiller discovers what it means to “shart” oneself). 

After POLLY came the wonderfully campy STARSKY AND HUTCH in which he teamed up with Owen Wilson in a send up of the classic 70’s TV cop show.  He followed up that comedy with this summer's DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY where he played the evil and malevolent owner of Globo Gym (with great lines like “Here at Globo Gym, we’re better than you, and we know it,” and “Nobody makes me bleed my own blood, nobody!”).   There was also ENVY, a trainwreck of immeasurable proportions, but like an illegitimate son, I will disown it from this year’s list of worthy comedies of mention altogether. 

Now Stiller is back with MEET THE FOCKERS, the nearly obscene entitled sequel to the enormously popular MEET THE PARENTS.  FOCKERS may seem like any other comedy sequel, one that borrows and appropriates ideas and conventions from the first film and then regurgitates them into a follow-up and tries to sell to the viewing public.  Well, the sequel is all of that and there is an air of familiarity with the whole proceedings, but the film nevertheless passes the CrAiGeR Philosophy of Successful Screen Comedies: 

If they make you laugh till ya drop than there is no way in hell the film’s a flop.  

FOCKERS may not be quite as fresh or funny as its predecessor, but there’s no denying that it's consistently funny most of the time and insanely focking funny a few times.  For the most part, it’s an enjoyable romp.

I truly loved 2000’S MEET THE PARENTS and thought it was the funniest film of that year, if not the last few years up to that point.  If I were to write a review of it today (2000 was a bit before my current film critic days) I would have aptly and proudly described it as a comic masterpiece of social ineptitude and awkwardness.  Just in case you forgot that film, Ben Stiller played Gaylord Focker (whose name alone was the butt of least a dozen jokes) who wants to marry his beautiful girlfriend but tries desperately, oh so desperately, to win the attention of her domineering and somewhat overwhelming father Jack, played with the perfect comic timing by Robert De Niro.  Well, if there was a film comedy where everything snowballs southward and fast for the young leading man, then it most certainly was that one. 

Let’s just say that poor old Gay Focker tried so hard to win his future father-in-law’s affection that he (mostly inadvertently) causes a number of what could be nominally described as terrible disasters – he causes Jack's  septic tank to overflow, he sets fire to nearly the entire house, he gives his future sister-in-law a black eye (a day before her wedding), he loses Jack’s beloved cat and then tries to pass off an impostor by painting a stray cat, and in one of the film’s most infamously funny moments, he spills Jack’s dead mother’s ashes on the floor while trying to open a bottle of whine and Jinx, Jack’s cat, uses the ashes for a purpose that no one would ever want the remains of their loved one used for.  Oh, and by the way, Gaylord eventually found out that Jack is a retired secret CIA operative with a special “human lie detector” sense.

By the end of that film, Gaylord does eventually (and miraculously) win the affection of Jack, and now the only thing that Jack and his wife had to do is meet Gaylord’s parents.  Well, that’s exactly what happens in MEET THE FOCKERS.   As the film opens we see Gaylord (or Greg, as he wisely renamed himself) and his girlfriend Pam (Teri Polo) still very much in love but not married.  Since Greg is now within the much-cherished “circle of trust” that Jack has humorously explained with great importance in the first film, the only thing left to make that circle complete is to include mom and dad Focker.  Well, with a baby in Pam’s belly, the trust of her parents in check, the only think to do is win over the affection of Jack for Greg’s parents.  Funny, anyone who might have experienced the incidents of the first film might have prepped Greg a bit by modestly saying to him, “Easier said than done”, but I digress. 

Nevertheless, Jack, his wife, Greg and Pam all head down to Florida to meets the rest of the Focker clan.  As they arrive to the somewhat secluded property (called “Focker Isle” on the sign leading into it) we are quickly introduced to Greg’s parents.  There is his father Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) who was once a successful lawyer until he, himself, took paternity leave to be a stay at home dad to raise Greg and never went back.  Greg’s mother, Roz (Barbara Streisand) is a highly successful elderly sex therapist with books with wonderfully whimsical titles like MEET YOUR ORGASM and MAKE YOUR VAGINA HAPPY.  To say that Bernie and Roz are two of the most laid back, strange, and offbeat parents in recent movie memory is a broad understatement, and they both create an effective comic foil to the stoic and serious Jack.   Streisand and Hoffman are a remarkable hoot in this film.

The rest of the film plays out somewhat like the first one, where a comedy of manners (or a complete disintegration of them) continues.  Bernie and Roz, the free-spirited, sexually liberated, and incredibly liberal minded parents are clearly no matches for Jack’s conservative world.  Just consider the look of the Focker home, especially Roz’s surroundings, filled with all things sexual and phallic in nature.  Of course, this does not sit too well with Jack, especially when his theories of childhood development and all things parenting are challenged very sharply by the Fockers (Jack believes in a cold hearted approach to rearing a child, where Roz and Bernie prefer to give unabashed love and attention, a method they call "fockerizing"). 

The Fockers are children of the hippy generation and seem cool, collected and comfortable in their surroundings and thoughts, whereas Jack seems troubled when his own beliefs feel threatened.  All this awkward situation needs, he feels, is a bit of a covert operation that only Jack knows how to perform, which amazingly involves a DNA study of hair samples and later, and much more sinisterly, a shot of truth serum given to one hapless Greg who stumbles on to a stage at a bar that they are all attending and let’s all of his true feelings fly out.  The gag is, of course, that everyone thinks he’s drunk.  Okay, the humor here is pretty paint-by-numbers and simple, but who said it simple can’t be funny, and Stiller's timing and delivery are flawless.

MEET THE FOCKERS also further establishes the dinner table as the centerpiece of an extended scene that ends in absolute catastrophe.  The scene starts simply enough with a few drinks and some polite conversation, but then makes the transition to graphic and frank sexual conversations about things like how Greg lost his virginity and then to an embarrassing family  photo album which also includes images from Greg's circumcision, not to mention a brief aside on the botched job that was done on said circumcision.  Also, normal families have remnants of their child, physically, in their scrapbooks, like a first lock of hair, for example.  Well, the Focker book has something much more intimate than that, and it, eventually, ends up in the table’s fondue set.  Sick and telegraphed, yes, but it’s the buildup to that moment that makes MEET THE FOCKERS and its prequel funny. 

These films work so well not because we are surprised by the comedy, but because we laugh almost in anticipation to the punchline and then when it comes we laugh again.  Most of the gags come at Greg’s expense, and Stiller, better than any actor, plays a hapless human punching bag that wants to do good but fails miserably at every corner so well.  More than most comedies, its the reactions to the mayhem that makes MEET THE FOCKERS a delight to sit through.

Some of the film’s jokes and set-ups work gloriously well.   I especially liked the way that Streisand challenges Jack and especially one scene where she tries to correct a nagging back injury with some erotic massage.  I also cherished one scene where the Fockers, probably more loving than any other parent, show off their wall of fame in Greg’s honour, to which jack deadpans, “I didn’t know they made ribbons for ninth place, Focker.”  There is also couple of funny moments that involve the Fockers and their botched attempt at leaving a recording on their answering machine.  Two other moments are key highlights.  One, where Greg tries to babysit Jack’s new grandson,  goes disastrously and ends with the child uttering a certain seven letter word that no parent, or grandparent, would like to hear a child say.  The other involves that darn Jinx, who now has learned to flush the toilet.  When he meets the incredible small Focker dog, which is a thorn in his side, it’s not too difficult to see where that dog's fate lies. 

MEET THE FOCKERS may not be the equal to MEET THE PARENTS and is not the funniest film of the year (that honor goes to ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY), but it's right up there and still is a very, very funny comedy with a lot of both smart and broad, simple-minded humour.  Stiller, as always, is his usual uncomfortable and embarrassed self (always good for laughs), De Niro is just as funny as he was in the first (there is a moment where he shows Greg a new contraption for breast feeding his grandson that provided one of the most absurd and silly laughs all year), but it is really Hoffman and Streisand that steal the show with their enlightened and liberal minded parents, who kind of come across as simultaneously overbearing and pretentious and nice, generous, and loveable at the same time.  It's also kind of refreshing to see two major acting talents in De Niro and Hoffman, both Oscar winners for dramatic work, reveal their good natures and ability to be good sports by saying, doing, and engaging in all things moronic and ham-infested. 

MEET THE FOCKERS is kind of the definition of a guilty pleasure, a sequel to a film comedy that was nearly flawless and one that you know you should not like very much, but you ultimately lose your resolve and begin to laugh at just about anything in it.  It is, like the 2000 original, a grand symphony of the outrageous with a sort of reckless and carefree wit and irresistible energy.  Mel Brooks once said that he'd be willing to do absolutely anything to make his audiences laugh, and MEET THE FOCKERS follows that ideology rather well.  As much as I hate to admit it, those old “Focker” verbal name gags get me every time, especially when we learn of two of Greg Focker's cousins, named Randy and Ornie.  C'mon, who said that all comedy had to be insightful and intelligent?

 

CrAiGeR's other

Film Reviews

 

LITTLE FOCKERS (2010)  j1/2

 

And, for what it's worth, CrAiGeR's  ranking of all of the FOCKERS TRILOGY films:

1. MEET THE PARENTS (2000) jjj1/2

2. MEET THE FOCKERS (2004) jjj

3. LITTLE FOCKERS (2010) j1/2

 

 

  H O M E