Robert De Niro
I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who’s had conversations over dinner about people I’ve known with “silly” names. Like the chap in my school with the confectionery-tastic title Mars Barrie; another who was the sexually-unchallenged Dick Hymen; and someone at university whose first (admittedly foreign) name was pronounced, “Boo-shitta”.
In circumstances like these, it is natural to wonder what sort of parents would condemn their kids to a life of perpetual embarrassment. In fact, this was the very question asked at the end of Meet The Parents by the character Jack Byrnes with regard to his future son-in-law, one Gaylord Focker – so paving the way for this sequel.
Truth be told, I didn’t hold out high hopes for Meet The Fockers. Don’t get me wrong – Meet The Parents was hilarious, a welcome blend of visual and dialogical humour that expertly occupied the fertile middle ground between lame puns and crude, gross-out comedy, and exaggerated to new levels the (di)stress in the familiar-to-all situation of a guy trying to win his girlfriend’s father’s approval.
However, with its title alone, Meet The Fockers implied that it might simply become an exercise in remorselessly seeing how many times actors could get away with swearing-but-not-swearing in family-rated film.
To some extent it is such an exercise, and the opening scene – where the shortcomings of Ben Stiller’s character’s moniker are far-from-subtly exposed again – doesn’t help. However, aside from two or three groan-worthy gags (other members of the Focker clan include Randy and Orney), Meet The Fockers is far funnier than it has any right to be.
The biggest contributing factors to this success are the addition of heavyweight pairing Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as Gaylord’s parents, who play the part of chalk to Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner’s cheese in a way that you would hope two double Oscar-winners might.
They are aided by a script that was clearly mulled over for a long time and, save for the odd lapse (like the closing credits’ sequence of having Stiller act up to one of De Niro’s hidden surveillance cameras), manages to avoid treading the same turf as Meet The Parents, while keeping enough familiarity to remind the audience of what they loved in the original.
The story itself is fairly straightforward. Gaylord (Ben Stiller) and Pam (Teri Polo) are soon to be married and it’s time for Pam’s parents – the ultra-competitive, ultra-conservative, scarily fastidious, ex-CIA man Jack (De Niro) and his likeable wife Dina (Danner) – to “meet the Fockers”, Bernie (Hoffman) and Roz (Streisand).
Of course, if that was it then it would make for a pretty boring film. However, when you throw in a few details like: 1) Bernie is a stay-at-home, touchy feely, hippy dad who greets the decidedly non-tactile Jack with a bear hug and an exhortation to, “Gimme some love!”; 2) Roz is a sex-obsessed therapist for senior citizens; 3) The Byrneses have a cat who knows how to flush toilets while the Fockers’ dog will hump anything that is upright; 4) The Fockers’ saucy ex-maid was Gaylord’s first flame; and 5) There’s a secret that Pam and Gaylord are determined Jack will not find out; then you have the elements for scene after scene of expertly acted, comic material.
At times the drollery almost descends into slapstick – there’s a scene involving Stiller, a baby, some glue, a rum bottle and Scarface on TV – but in general, it stays on the right side of the precipice. It also would have been nice to see the writers take more of a risk and have Danner and Streisand at odds with each other rather than becoming allies as the battle between De Niro’s macho man and Hoffman’s feminine side heats up.
But, maybe that is expecting too much. Right down to the schmaltzy but admittedly feelgood ending, Meet The Fockers, like its predecessor, is predictable in structure but surprising in its execution.
Perhaps most tellingly of all, it made a roomful of notoriously cynical hacks laugh out loud, not least when Jack comments, when faced with Bernie and Roz’s living room shrine to Gaylord, that “I didn’t know they made prizes for coming ninth!” Meet The Fockers won’t be the film of the year, but it’s got a fighting chance of being in the top 10 and, contrary to what De Niro’s character would tell you, there’s no shame in that.