Meet the Fockers, the sequel to the hilarious Meet the Parents, is light but entertaining holiday fare. Perhaps the funniest part of the movie is the title.
In Meet the Parents, which I recently watched again with my grown son and the woman he brought home to “meet the parents,” the gags, although carried to an extreme, are amusing. These range from problems resulting from the airline’s loss of the suitcase of Pam’s (Teri Polo) boyfriend Greg (Ben Stiller), whom she had brought home to meet her parents, to the antics of the suspicious and impossible-to-please father, Jack Byrnes (Robert de Niro). Jack’s rejection of the desperate-to-please Greg (Ben Stiller) leads Greg to tell one preposterous lie after another.
At certain moments in Meet the Parents, interfaith issues play a fairly prominent role–particularly when Jack introduces Greg to friends and mentions that he is Jewish. Yet, at the end of the film, the jealous, controlling Jack somewhat reluctantly accepts his daughter Pam’s relationship with Greg, after nearly destroying it.
In Meet the Fockers, which takes place two years later, the couple, now engaged, visit Greg’s parents in Florida to plan their wedding, bringing Pam’s parents, Jack and Dina (Blythe Danner), with them. Greg has put off this meeting for two years, fearing it would be a disaster. The movie plays with stereotypes of uptight, out-of-touch-with-their-feelings WASPs interacting with warm, emotional, and much more physically affectionate Jews. The Fockers evince these Jewish characteristics to an extreme, as the mother, Roz (Barbra Streisand), is a sex therapist, and the dad, Bernie (Dustin Hoffman), is a stay-at-home, touchy-feely guy who gave up his law career when Greg was born. When first introduced to Jack, Bernie doesn’t take the hand offered for a handshake, but wants a hug instead.
As in Meet the Parents, Greg comes up with preposterous stories in a desperate attempt to please his future father-in-law–a strategy he could never have learned from his embarrassingly open parents.
When Bernie and Roz bring up their sex lives at the dinner table, Greg’s choice of a woman from a more restrained background becomes quite comprehensible. And after seeing the uptight de Niro, Pam’s choice of a more emotionally available partner becomes equally understandable.
The main pleasure of the movie comes from watching Streisand and Hoffman interact with Danner and de Niro. The couples’ cultural and political values and lifestyles constantly clash, and they have a difficult time finding neutral ground on which to converse. But in the end, of course, since this is a comedy, everything works out: Roz helps the Byrnes learn how to please each other, and the engaged couple is married by an interfaith minister (Pam’s former fiancé) in a ceremony that is as banal as the movie.
While the acting in Meet the Fockers is uniformly excellent, Streisand and Hoffman’s abundant talents are wasted as they contend with too many clichés.