Meet the Fockers (2004)

meet_the_fockers IMDb

The movie that showed De Niro could be funny was always going to get a sequel after the first movie was so successful. Everybody returns for this second instalment, but the big question is who was going to play Greg Focker’s (Ben Stiller) parents. They had to be able to hold their own with someone like Robert De Niro, but also be kooky enough to have called their male nurse son Gaylord. The casting of Greg’s parents was always going to be the thing that would make or break this film, and the filmmakers could not have got it more right. Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand (coming out of retirement for this role) are perfect as Greg’s eccentric hippy parents and great foils to the stuck up Jack Byrnes (De Niro).

The film revolves around a family road trip to meet Greg’s parents. Jack is keen to meet the new in-laws and make sure they will be suitable for his ‘circle of trust’. Of course he meets these two, Bernie and Roz Focker, and is horrified. He originally thought Bernie was a lawyer and Roz a doctor, but it turns out Bernie stopped practicing when Greg was a child so he could raise him, and Roz is not so much a doctor as she is a sex therapist. These are not the kind of people Jack wants joining his family, and Bernie and Roz also have issues with stick in the mud Jack. Caught in the middle are Greg and his wife-to-be, Pam (Teri Polo). Jack gets into his secretive ways yet again trying to prove that Greg is not the guy for his daughter, causing more problems than he solves.

I enjoyed this movie. It was a lot of fun to see Hoffman and De Niro share the screen. The two have such screen presence and it was great seeing them clearly having a lot of fun with their roles. Hoffman in particular is clearly enjoying himself as the eccentric Bernie Focker. Seeing him gush over his male nurse son is quite the sight. Barbara Streisand also holds her own against these accomplished actors. Seeing these veterans work together is by far the highlight of the film for me.

In saying that, there are some negatives. There is a subplot revolving around Jack’s grandson who has been dragged on the family road trip without his parents. The kid is not needed and detracts from what we all want to see, which is DeNiro and Hoffman bicker with each other. Teri Polo and Blythe Danner also seem a little bit wasted in this movie, but you don’t hire Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand without giving them plenty to do on screen.

This film is funny. I would put it on par with the first film. I love the title, although I can’t believe that the MPAA let them get away with it. Thankfully I don’t own the terrible third film, but the less said about that debacle the better.

Rating: B

I was very skeptical of this sequel when it was released. I didn’t bother seeing it for a couple years as a result, but was pleasantly surprised when I finally did. Everyone is back for Meet the Fockers, and there are the excellent additions of Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand to the cast. That said, this could have been a much better movie if it had dumped one of its subplots.

Meet the Fockers picks up where Meet the Parents left off. Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo) are now engaged, and must take the dreaded next step of introducing Greg’s parents (Hoffman and Streisand) to Pam’s (Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner). Chaos ensues– as it always does for Greg– thanks in part to a clash of cultures. The Byrnes family are straight-laced, conservative wasps from Long Island. The Fockers are eccentric, liberal Jews living in the Florida Keys. It’s an obvious set-up, but it works thanks to the cast.

Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand steal the show as a stay at home dad and sex therapist, respectively. Both seem to relish their quirky roles, adding a layer of believability during the more out there scenes. Really, these two needed to go big with their characters to balance out the personalities of De Niro and Danner’s characters. This movie works in part, because the gap between these parents is seemingly so large. Again, it’s an easy idea, but so was the first movie. Meet the Fockers works, because the cast has a great sense of humor.

The only thing that sort of kills this movie for me is the subplot involving the Byrnes’ grandson, Little Jack. The kid is cute, but his presence is contrived and not necessary. Little Jack is there to facilitate disagreements over how to properly parent a child, but I feel like Big Jack could have found plenty to criticize without the baby being there. I also don’t think the audience needed to filter all of Big Jack’s opinions through an actual kid. We understand that Pam was raised much differently than Greg, is she not comparison enough? The only other scenes of note involving Little Jack are Big Jack feeding him through a prosthetic breast, and Little Jack repeating a swear word. Given that Pam reveals her pregnancy in this movie, I feel these jokes could have been saved for the next installment, Little Fockers (which I have not seen).

Meet the Fockers doesn’t live up to Meet the Parents, but it’s still a lot of fun. I do feel bad for Ben Stiller, Teri Polo, and Blythe Danner. They were all upstaged by De Niro in the first film, and are pushed further into the background by Hoffman and Streisand here. Still, somebody’s got to play the straight man (and women). If everyone in the family were crazy things would really start to look ridiculous.

Rating: B-

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