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Meet the Fockers

Shtick and move

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A few years ago, in Meet the Parents, nice Jewish boy Gaylord "Greg" Focker (Ben Stiller) got engaged to nice blond girl Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo) and had to ingratiate himself to her folks: Jack Byrnes (Robert DeNiro), a retired CIA agent who could find a conspiracy in the sunrise, and his lovely wife, Dina (Blythe Danner), a mistress of emotional deflection.

 

 

So now it's time to meet the other parents -- or, more precisely, for the parents to meet each other. We've seen this sort of thing before: reserved (i.e. sexually repressed) WASPs meet fun-loving (i.e. nosey, pushy, etc.) Jews. The resultant pandemonium is Meet the Fockers, a title you want to say over and over, and a movie you only want to see once.

 

Meet the Fockers isn't all that bad. How could it be, with Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as Bernie and Roz Focker -- he a long-retired attorney and stay-at-home dad, she a sex therapist for the lucky-to-be-alive set in Florida. To paraphrase, funny is as funny does, and when I watched Meet the Fockers, a large preview audience seemed to enjoy it. They enjoyed seeing a cagey cat flush a humpy dollop of a dog down a toilet (mildly funny), laughed when Greg's keepsake foreskin landed in the fondue pot (funny idea), and howled when the three men got arrested by a hick Florida cop (Stiller has a funny physical moment). Who am I to argue with such healthy emotional release?

 

Meet the Fockers has numerous small virtues: The stars, showing their professionalism, rarely hog the screen; the scenes of mayhem, slapstick and farce are briskly edited and usually end before they get stupid; the script comes up with a smart line or clever bon mot about once per scene. Bernie Focker, who has one working testicle, coos over his handsome son and says, "Just imagine what he would have looked like if I had two." Roz Focker, chiding her son's uptight future in-laws, declares her joie-de-vivre with, "Why should we diminish our joy just because they live in denial?"

 

These people are all benign caricatures, except for Jack Byrnes, who's a witless cartoon, and who of course must change before it ends. This leaves DeNiro with the insurmountable challenge of playing a total stiff, and he's not very convincing at it. Hoffman finds his character without consuming him, and Streisand is atypically warm and unpretentious (she smears her magnanimous boobs with whipped cream, and Hoffman buries his face in them). Stiller's comic set piece is a skillfully paced monologue on truth serum, and Danner, who's relegated here, still manages some cunning glances (totally in character). There is, as well, a cherubic crib-bound towhead, whose expressions and gestures are so deft that he must be computer-generated. He is -- please, stop me -- one cute little Focker, if only by marriage.

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