Film Reviews

MEET THE FOCKERS

By • Dec 22nd, 2004 •

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QUOTE: Greg Focker is ashamed of his loving parents and Jack Byrnes needs Viagra.

I keep thinking about MEET THE FOCKERS and liking it less each time. Jack Brynes (Robert De Niro) is an adoring grandfather to his married daughter’s son Little Jack (Spencer and Bradley Pickren). He worships the toddler. For some reason, this is mocked.

Jack is a retired CIA agent and an emotionally distant buffoon: His entire philosophy of child rearing – he did raise Greg’s (Ben Stiller) fiancé Pam (Teri Polo) and that turned out well – is ridiculed. Now it is uptight Jack and tranquilized wife Dina’s (Blythe Danner) turn to meet Greg’s parents in Miami. Pam has been living with Greg for two years. Jack and Dina have brought a huge, custom-built RV for the trip to meet the Fockers in Miami. They are bringing Little Jack with them. They are not warned that Bernie Focker (Dustin Hoffman) is a retired lawyer who stayed home to raise Greg and Roz Focker (Barbra Streisand) is a senior citizen sex therapist trapped in the 60’s. Yes, old hippies are funny, but so are old ladies with new tattoos. There is nothing worse than seeing a woman in her sixties in the health club wearing a thong. But things like this happen. I see it all the time. Greg should have told Jack and Dina that his parents are way too touchy-feely and far too sexually outrageous for them to appreciate or understand.

Ex-CIA agent Jack Brynes should have known all this already.

The only thing missing in Bernie and Roz’s house is a marijuana garden. The fact that Greg was showered with attention, praised for getting up in the morning, and his father has recently mounted a shrine to his “mediocrity,” is not a delight to him. Greg is embarrassed by his parents. He shouldn’t be and this is why the movie fails to charm us.

What is wrong with having parents that adore their grown son? Is every son who does not turn out to be an orthopedic surgeon a failure? Why should Greg and Roz tone down their lifestyle to suit the Brynes? It’s not like they’re taking yearly trips to the Amazon to partake of psychotropic plants with shamans. (This writer’s son has to explain this to his friends). Greg cherishes his wife and is thrilled every time she turns up. He thinks she is fabulous. I’m hating him, aren’t you?

Why didn’t Greg inform the Brynes exactly what his parents were like, and then sit back and watch them deal with it? Instead, Greg is suffering through the pain of bringing his future in-laws to meet his nutty, OM-chanting parents. Jack and Dina are shocked by everything: Bernie and Roz’s hippy house, Roz’s clients, their sexually inappropriate behavior, and blunt sex talk at the dinner table. What lurks behind this disapproval is evident to Roz and finally revealed: The Brynes haven’t had sex in over a year. Jack doesn’t like to be touched. Dina is dying for affection. Doesn’t it sound hilarious…?

If you want to sit back and be smug, then Jack is pretty funny. His obsessive child rearing antics, his shock at Bernie’s Shrine to Greg, his “Circle of Trust,” and his “Chink in the Chain.” The problem hangs over the story: If Dina is so unhappy and Jack is such an ass, what is she doing being married to him for over 30 years?

The most endearing thing about MEET THE FOCKERS is, I am shocked to admit this, Hoffman and Streisand. Hoffman is everywhere: He’s in I HEART HUCKABEES, FINDING NEVERLAND, and he has a walk-on in LEMONY SNICKET. I spotted him in the crowd during Howard Hughes’s ticker-tape parade in THE AVIATOR. Hoffman’s new agent is the bomb. Streisand, formerly notorious for arguing over her camera angles and lighting, is easy-going and completely at ease. Her personal happiness is evident in her carefree performance. I might be encouraging a monster, but Streisand was an uncomplicated pleasure to watch. She looked comfortable with herself. Or was she acting?

Once again, Stiller chews up the scenery and plays the bedraggled character. Greg has two loving parents and a beautiful fiancé. He should enjoy his in-laws and be grateful he was raised by two people who celebrate individuality. The fault lies not with Jack Brynes, but with Greg Focker.

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