Meet the Fockers
Directed by Jay Roach
Right off the bat, I’ve got to say that Meet the Fockers is not my type of movie – a comedy, supposedly set in a real-life situation – the film equivalent of a TV sitcom (almost all of which I find unbearable.) That said, it’s fairly well executed for what it is. Director Jay Roach -- who also did 2000’s Meet the Parents -- is good at the laugh-a-minute style of comedy. I don’t find it very funny, but I can see how other people will differ with me. Fockers is chock-full of repetitive humor – even if you find this stuff amusing, I don’t see how one can enjoy the same joke over and over. For example, the first movie, Parents, made ample use of the double entendre on “Folker”. In this movie, not only is that joke in the title and the promotional campaign, but they re-use it maybe a half dozen times in the film itself.
One of the few funny things in Fockers is the baby that CIA-uptight-white-guy Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) is taking care of for his (off-camera) daughter. Jack trusts the baby to his future son-in-law, Greg Focker (Ben Stiller), and you’ve got to know – the plot is totally predictable – that something bad – absurd, slapstick bad – will happen in the couple of hours that the baby is in Greg’s care. Greg manages, inadvertently, to teach the baby a naughty word, which baby repeats at least 20 times in the course of the film. My point is that watching the cute little baby repeat the bad word was funny the first couple of times but they beat the joke to death. The fundamental problem with this genre – and TV sitcoms are even worse offenders – is that the writers feel the need to have some kind of “beat” every couple of minutes – that’s part of the formula for the genre. It’s bad enough that the funny stuff is overused but Fockers also overplays unfunny material: male-nurse jokes (Greg’s a nurse – Wow! That’s so funny!) – and sex-therapist jokes. Greg’s mom, Roz (Barbra Streisand) is an absurdly unprofessional MD specializing in sex therapy.
I have to give the cast of Fockers a certain amount of credit – given the material they had to work with, they did well. Robert De Niro was somewhat miscast as an uptight WASP – his accent is more Brooklyn-Queen-ethnic than suburban-WASP – but his scenes with the baby are the best in the film. One thing that never made any sense – why would the baby’s parents trust their child to this psycho-CIA-nut-case? The movie has the overall look and feel of realistic America in 2004 – more on “look and feel” later – so it bothers me that so many things are so wildly unrealistic. Another example is the Roz character.
In an absurdly stylized fantasy world, Barbra Streisand’s Roz would be a very funny character but in the supposedly real-world setting of Fockers, this “doctor” is ridiculous. The filmmakers expect the viewer to accept the idea that she is real MD – who had to go to college, getting good grades, and get through med school, only to behave like a new-age-sex-cult guru. Would any real doctor start giving sex advice – unsolicited – to her prospective in-laws, after knowing them only one day? I’m not knocking Ms. Streisand’s performance, mind you, just the material – in a different type of movie this character would be great.
Likewise, Dustin Hoffman’s Bernie, Greg’s dad, is a well executed crazy-comic character that’s out of place in a film supposedly set in the real world. Bernie is a lawyer who quit practicing law when Greg was an infant – so if Greg’s about 30 and Bernie’s about 60, then Bernie practiced law for all of about five years and has been spending the last ten years or so prancing around the yard doing some kind of new-age-Brazilian fighting moves. There’s a lot of humorous potential in this character – I thought Dustin Hoffman’s performance is the best in the movie – but this kind of character belongs in an alternate universe – think Austin Powers (by far the best movies by director Jay Roach, by the way.)
The main character in Fockers is Ben Stiller’s Greg – the stoically suffering nice-guy-geek who audiences apparently find very sympathetic as well as funny – he plays variations on that character in most of his movies, to considerable box-office success. Greg is caught in the middle of this red-state/blue-state culture clash -- both his parents and his father-in-law are such absurd characters that they seem contrived in this nominally realistic movie. Here’s my idea of how the filmmakers could have turned this lemon into lemonade: hire some cool-hip-artsy production and costume designers and do away with the bland real-world setting. These zany characters need to live in a stylized fantasy land, not the real world. That’s why Jay Roach’s Austin Powers movies are so much better that his Meet the… movies – in Austin Powers the wild-and-crazy characters inhabit a world that suits them.
If you liked Meet the Parents, then you should see Fockers -- it’s got a stronger cast and is a well-made film, for the genre. I must say that I’m a little frustrated that, in the middle of the end-of-year movie season – when many Oscar hopefuls are released – some of the best movies of the year – that Fockers is #1 at the box office. There are several fine film in theaters – it’s a competitive time of the year and this wins at the B.O?
The look of Fockers is nothing special so, if you don’t catch it in theaters, you won’t miss much by seeing it on DVD.
Photographs are copyright Universal Pictures.
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