30 April 2005 | BrandtSponseller
A different kind of comedy than Meet the Parents
Series note: As this is a direct continuation of Meet the Parents (2000), it is recommended that you watch that film first. It gives necessary background exposition and characterization for this film.
Gaylord "Greg" Focker (Ben Stiller) and fiancée Pam Byrnes' (Teri Polo) wedding is fast approaching, and their parents still have not met each other. So Greg and Pam fly from Chicago to New York to meet her parents, Jack (Robert De Niro) and Dina (Blythe Danner), before heading off with them to Miami to meet his parents, Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) and Mother Focker Roz (Barbara Streisand). The problem is that the Byrnes are staid, conservative (though slightly crazy) types who would never think of showing public affection, while the Fockers are still hippies--she is a sex therapist for elderly couples and he's a lawyer who became Mr. Mom once Gaylord was born. Can Gaylord keep his parents reined in enough to not cause Jack blow his lid and try to stop the wedding? Although I didn't think Meet the Fockers was quite as funny or successful as Meet the Parents, it's still funny and successful, with a bit less of an emphasis on nonstop outrageous humor and a bit more of an emphasis on the often amusing complexities of extended family relationships.
If you've seen Meet the Parents first--and you should--some of the material, such as Gaylord's job, jokes based on the "Focker" name, and even Jack's background and disposition will have less of an impact, which initially partially depends on novelty and surprise. Additionally, director Jay Roach and the writing team of James Herzfeld, Marc Hyman and John Hamburg telegraph quite a few of the punch lines. For just one example, it's obvious that something is going to happen to Gaylord's rental car in New York as soon as we hear him opt out of purchasing insurance, blowing it off as a "scam" to make money.
On the other hand, Roach and crew make it clear from the start that they're not exactly shooting for the same style of film as Meet the Parents. This is evident from the beginning, which cleverly pokes fun at Meet the Parents' "gradually going to hell in a handbasket" style by having everything go exactly right.
Roach aims for classic scenarios of families colliding that have surprisingly serious subtexts (and in the real world, these kinds of situations do have an attendant humor, at least when we're not right in the midst of them). Every family tends to have its own customs and norms, its own take on ethics, etiquette, politics, religion and so on. Naturally, when we try to merge families through marriages, uncomfortable, often embarrassing, and frequently tense situations abound. Aside from the humor, this is the crux of Meet the Fockers.
Another important subtext that occurs in various guises through the film (and for which the potential was there in Meet the Parents even if it wasn't capitalized on in quite the same way) is opening up to "free", honest expression of one's thoughts, feelings and desires versus showing a "proper" public face. This is particularly amusing and poignant in the case of Jack, whose job involved obtaining honest expression, but who is the strongest case of putting on a false public face--to an extent that he's bought into the persona himself. In a way, Roach and crew are suggesting that if we can really reach that ideal self-expression, maybe those family mergers, and even other kinds of cultural encounters (such as the Fockers' run-in with the police) could proceed more smoothly.
So it's not so important whether Meet the Fockers is as funny as Meet the Parents. Roach isn't just trying to make you laugh, even though he does so frequently. Despite all the comments in others' reviews about sex-oriented humor (how could you not expect that in a film with a title like this?), or general "low-brow" humor, the comic situations here are more sophisticated in many ways than a typical "outrageous" comedy. That means that you're not going to laugh out loud, with tears streaming down your face, as often as you're going to be sitting there with a big smile on your face watching scenarios such as Bernie trying, and mostly succeeding, to hold on to his hippie ideals no matter what the short term costs. This is more a humor of slightly exaggerated but realistic folly, played fabulously by a stellar cast.