|Meet the Fockers
The 2002 comedy MEET THE PARENTS proved to be a box-office success, in part because
it touched a nerve. Meeting the relatives of the one you love is always fraught with stress. The film milked the
situation to comic effect (albeit with the almost de rigueur lowbrow shtick that one comes to expect in any film
featuring Ben Stiller). While I doubt that audiences were clamoring for another go around with Gaylord 'Greg'
Focker (Stiller) and his intended Pam (Teri Polo) and her uptight parents Jack and Dina Byrnes (Robert
De Niro and Blythe Danner), the movie studio clearly say dollar signs. What better way to stretch the
franchise than to have the Byrnes family meet the Fockers.?
While it might have been amusing to have seen Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara play the titular couple, it
was a complete stroke of genius to hire Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand to portray Bernie and Roz
Focker. An ageing pair of hippies, he's a lawyer who gave up practicing to be a house husband and she's
a sex therapist who now specializes in senior citizens. Hard as it may be to believe, Hoffman and Streisand
have never worked together before, yet these old friends (and former business partners in First Artists,
mid-1970s attempt to create an alternate production company/film studio) share such a terrific screen
chemistry that one almost wishes the vehicle in which they're appearing was far superior to what it is.
The seemingly ubiquitous Hoffman does a bang-up job as Bernie, the touchy-feely paterfamilias
of the Focker clan. He's a masterful comedian who hasn't been this amusing on screen for a long while.
Serving as the perfect foil for the straight-laced De Niro, he almost steals the entire movie. If it weren't
for the presence of Streisand, he might have walked off with that (dubious) honor. For her part,
Streisand hasn't been this relaxed on screen since the heyday of her comedies in the early 1970s like
WHAT'S UP, DOC? Over the years, many have forgotten just how wonderful and warm a screen
presence she can be, in part because of the rumors of her perfectionism. Her more recent self-directed
screen offerings (such as YENTL and THE PRINCE OF TIDES) have been coated in a patina of
seriousness bordering on parody. Whether its playing off Hoffman's off the wall eccentricities or challenging
De Niro's uptight attitude or counseling Danner's frustrated housewife, Streisand shines.
The biggest fault of the film, though, is its insistence on falling back on ridiculous plot devices and overall
lowbrow humor. The premise of the clash of family cultures has the potential for excellence, but screenwriters
James Herzfeld and John Hamburger wallow in bad taste. What may work for the Farrelly brothers here
is taken to the extreme to the point where some scenes are painful to watch. Stiller has the tendency to debase
himself in all his movies and he does not disappoint here, delivering a rambling, sexually tinged monologue
brought on by truth serum. (Don't ask.) Polo has little to do except look concerned and barely registers as a
character, while Danner makes the most of her character's exasperation.
It's been eight years since Streisand last graced the big screen. Here's hoping that some enterprising
screenwriter and/or director will find another comedy for her and Hoffman – one that will truly allow these
two gifted actors to shine. As it stands, audiences will have to settle for the so-so MEET THE FOCKERS.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and a brief drug reference
Running time: 116 mins.
Viewed at the Loews Lincoln Square Theater.
|© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.