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Meet the Fockers

Director: Jay Roach
Cast: Robert DeNiro, Ben Stiller, Blythe Danner, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Teri Polo

(Universal; US theatrical: 22 Dec 2004; 2004)

Fockerized

Jinx the cat returns. And with the Focker-Byrnes wedding imminent, he takes to the road with daddy Jack (Robert DeNiro), to meet Greg’s (Ben Stiller) parents. Expanding the premise of the 2000 original—Jack’s brittle uptightness vs. Greg’s loosey-goosey haplessness—the sequel gives rubber-faced De Niro a whole family’s worth of antagonism. And Jinx is only his fuzziest complement.


Also along for the ride to “Focker Isle” (a hideaway home just outside Miami) are Jack’s longsuffering wife Dina (Blythe Danner), precocious infant grandson Jackie (Spencer and Bradley Pikren), and of course, terminally banal bride-to-be Pam (Teri Polo) and Greg. They travel in Jack’s Kevlar-reinforced RV, a monster black vehicle that houses Jack’s secret mini-CIA-surveillance center and a toilet jiggered so Jinx can flush it (with a little dog in it, to boot).


The drive to Florida takes up enough minutes to lay out the ongoing tensions between Greg and Jack, despite the former’s initiation, in Meet the Parents, into the Circle of Trust. In particular, Greg questions Jack’s invention of a “mammary” harness, a rubber device emulating his absent daughter’s left breast, so little Jackie can feel soothed at feeding time. You know that as soon as Jack convinces Greg to put his hand on the device—“Feel how soft it is!”—that Dina and Pam will walk in on the touchy-feely scene. “That’s not natural,” huffs Pammy. “That’s just weird.”


And so goes the rest of the adventure, as the clash of the in-laws allows Jack to misbehave inordinately and repeatedly. A retired lawyer and stay-at-home dad, Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) is the likely parent of neurotic nurse Greg, though the sex therapist earth-mothery Roz (Barbra Streisand) seems a little too healthy to be spending her time with any of these men. Just when the Byrnesmobile lands in the Fockers’ grand circling driveway, she’s upstairs conducting one of her regular yoga-sex classes for seniors: the camera lingers on their contorting bodies, as they extol Roz’s virtues and exult in their newfound vigor. Thus the scene is set for more chaos, more conflict, and more life lessons for cranky Jack. He will, in the end, be “Fockerized.”


The promotional talk-festing for Meet the Fockers has smartly emphasized the “event” of gathering together all these performers, rather than mention the material, which is as inane and hit-and-miss funny as before. Once again, the predominant mode in Meet the Fockers is over the top: set squarely against Jack’s hard-case (if surprisingly imaginative) discipline, the Fockers are brash, generous, and fond of games in bed. One memorably disturbing scene has Greg walking in on his parents indulging in such shenanigans, horrified to see Bernie’s face squished between Roz’s breasts, emerging with whipped cream shmeared all over his face. These free spirits insist that they should be able to “be themselves” in their own home, even with a cantankerous bully visiting for the weekend.


The impetus for this primal moment is Greg playing policeman, trying to shoosh his parents in order not to upset the WASPy Byrnes, who are not-quite-sleeping in Roz’s downstairs office. The fact that they’re surrounded by fertility statuary, sex tools, and Roz’s publications (including the book, Is Your Vagina Happy?), Jack is already on edge, of course. Still, Greg believes that he can maintain a veneer of staid banality long enough to ensure the wedding’s going forward—this even in the face of his mother’s paisley-gauzy blouses and his father’s penchant for bright Hawaiian shirts, unbuttoned to expose his leather-tanned chest. Add to this mix the secret that Pam is pregnant—Jack can’t know because, well, because he supposedly believes they haven’t had sex yet—and the weekend is sure to be uproarious.


Among the culture shocks in store for Jack (Dina, as before, tends to bow her head and barely moan, “Oh Jack” at any upset) is the shrine the Fockers have erected to celebrate their baby boy’s utter mediocrity. The one-wall Hall of Gaylord includes photos, ninth place sporting ribbons, and a wrestling singlet, inspiring Jack’s disdain, which in turn brings out Bernie’s apparently previously repressed competitive streak. A friendly bout of football leads to a show of aggression that puts out Jack’s back and brings on (still more of) Greg’s dismay. And for the rest of us, the scene reprises the water volleyball game when Greg broke Pam’s sister’s nose—and paid for it for the rest of the film.


In other words, we know what’s at stake here, and know that Jack’s implacable meanness is just that: you can’t win with this guy, so Greg’s 9and for a few minutes, his father’s) efforts to do so seem only motions to go through. The most encouraging difference in this mix, compared to our first excursion into Byrnesville, is easily Roz. Not only does she encourage her child to revel in his nurseness and advise him on his sexual activities, she also “senses” Pam’s pregnancy (“You’re glowing!” she effuses on first seeing her daughter-in-law-to-be) and instructs Dina and Jack, separately, on expanding their sensual sensitivities. Irrepressible as you knew she would be, Babs brings her own potent barrage to this company of self-interested men, not to mention the melt-away women. Thank goodness for her.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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