Meet the Parents (2000) was a pleasant, entertaining comedy, but its sequel, Meet the Fockers is even better.
Taking the comedic principle of the first film – a tense family situation that becomes an escalating catastrophe – this fine sequel multiplies the possibilities for excruciating humour.
Greg (Ben Stiller) and Pam (Teri Polo) have delayed getting married for two years because of the scary prospect of their respective parents having to meet. But now that Pam's father Jack (Robert De Niro), an ex-CIA operative, has bought a fortified, fully equipped mini-bus ("the highlight of our twilight", as his wife Dina [Blythe Danner] comments), the trip to the home of Greg's folks, house-husband Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) and sex therapist Roz (Barbra Streisand), is finally going to happen.
Many of the laughs in this movie derive from Greg's increasingly pained attempt to stifle the natural exuberance of his gregarious parents – and his overcompensating effort to behave in a stoic, macho way that will please Jack. But the distaste we can feel in relation to Greg and his bad faith leads to a great pay-off, when he is put in charge of looking after Jack's beloved little grandson for a few hours. This minor masterpiece of condensed catastrophe eventually involves a bottle of booze, a randy dog, and Brian De Palma's Scarface (1983) on the television set.
Any attempt to encapsulate the story of this film reveals both its charm and its weakness. The plot has no central motor. The weekend unfolds and various events and intrigues are grafted onto it, sometimes elliptically or clumsily – such as a spontaneous party for the assembled Focker clan.
The narrative centres essentially on Jack's obsessive, military-style schemes of control, but even this is split into two lines – on the one hand, his supervision of his grandson's education and, on the other hand, his secretive surveillance and information-gathering schemes in relation to Greg's past (greatly expanding the memorable lie-detector test from Meet the Parents).
But even if the script (by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg) lacks overall tightness, it contains many incidental delights. The best part of the film is the comparison it weaves between Jack and Bernie (the women, alas, are not conveyed quite as colourfully). They stand for two very different types of masculinity, two starkly opposed political views, and two extreme attitudes to life.
Where Jack's body-language speaks volumes about his wound-up repression (Roz looks forward to the day when, sexually, he will "explode like Krakatoa"), Bernie's style is free-flowing and loose-fitting. Between this film and I Huckabees (2004), it seems as if Hoffman has a new screen persona as the living emblem of 1960s counter-culture.Director Jay Roach, veteran of the Austin Powers series (1997, 1999 & 2002), has developed an endearing ability to play to both the trash comedy crowd – as in the scene where Pam announces her new marital name, Pam Martha Focker ("I know how that sounds") – and to those seeking a slightly more sophisticated comedy of manners.
MORE Roach: Mystery, Alaska
© Adrian Martin December 2004