Directed by Jay Roach. USA. 2004.

Reviewed by Jamie Garwood and Shari Last

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It’s been four years since Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) entered the Byrne’s circle of trust and its been four years that Greg has been fighting to stay there.  We now get the inevitable follow-up sequel to Meet the Parents, with us now meeting Greg’s parents in Miami.  Whereas the first film had Greg trying to obtain Jack’s permission to marry his daughter Pam (Teri Polo), here it focuses on the situation of embarrassment similar to what Greg suffered in the first film, but instead focusing on the character Jack Byrne (Robert De Niro) and how he reacts to something new and challenging to his status quo.  In Jack you have a man who used to work for the CIA and so naturally is right-wing in his views and then you have Bernie (Dustin Hoffman), Greg’s dad who has lived as a house-husband and these liberal views are in strict contrast to Jack and so there is tension.  As seen in their first encounter when Jack and Bernie meet, while Jack wants to shake hands, Bernie wants to hug and kiss on the cheeks, ‘Come on give me some love’.  The look on Jack’s face says it all.

By concentrating on Jack and Bernie’s opposition to one another more often, it means the star of the first film Greg is pushed to one side and is really required to gurn, mumble and trip up through the film, to some genuine discomfort on the face of Stiller who looks as if he wants to be somewhere else.  And even though he replicates most of what was done in the first film, but this time with no laughs.

Viewing the retired Jack is an uneasy experience, instead of De Niro critiquing his bad boy image or at times channelling it as he did in the first film (remember the polygraph scene), you get the sense of an actor searching for undue rewards and going to lengths that are not necessary; whereas Hoffman gets more laughs because he is so against expectations.  This may be due to us seeing him for the first time in such a free role on film, while De Niro has been stretching this comedy run now for too long.  And anybody who sees the sight of De Niro wearing a breast will know what I mean.

While Stiller looks uncomfortable, it is good to welcome back Barbara Streisand back to the silver screen for the first time in eight years in the role of Greg’s sex therapist mother, and she lights up the screen when she appears although she is not particularly stretched.  And Hoffman is a joy to watch as he indulges in one of the things he so rarely does; comedy.

One scene that I feel I should mention is the scene in the police cell near the end, when Greg so wanting to be a part of Jack’s circle he exits that circle and forms a circle of his own with Jack absent from it.  Bernie then asks, ‘Which circle am I in?’  The other two reply, ‘Nobody’s’.  To me it appears that this film is not afraid to scrutinise Bernie and his political views at this time in America.  To many Bernie will always be on the outside.

While clearly not as good as the original film as it suffers from placing Jack at the focus of attention, the ending puts an end to the franchise happily, but it is still entertaining with more laughs than most Hollywood comedies.  It took them four years to tell us what happened after Greg got into the circle, a part of me wishes they left us with the memories of that fight and not tell us what happened next.  Even though the box-office will suggest otherwise.

Jamie Garwood

What can I say? Thank God for Barbra Streisand! Now that’s something I never thought I’d say. Still feeling apprehensive after Meet the Parents, I actually enjoyed the opening sequence of Meet the Fockers. It was rather nice to have things go right for a change. However, I guess I shouldn’t have let my guard down; Ben Stiller embarrasses himself even more, surpassing all probabilities and somehow manages to remain engaged to the thoroughly normal Pam (Teri Polo).

In terms of plot there really is no plot. I have a rule which I tend to apply to films: Sport does not constitute a plot. I think I now have to expand this rule to include cringeworthiness as well. I’m sorry, but we now have, in the world, two feature-length films composed entirely of the most embarrassing possible situations, all happening to one poor, slightly irritating, twitchy man. Roz Focker (Streisand) is the only character who appears to possess the slightest degree of self-restraint, and she actually understands the concept of trying not to embarrass her son; unlike Hoffman, whose character is so one dimensional that he seems to be only imbued with the ability to embarrass and the incapacity of keeping shtum.

There are a couple of laughs in Meet the Fockers (which is a couple more then Meet the Parents, where it was more a case of crying than laughing). Cute little baby Jack, who holds the monopoly on bad language in the film, does provoke a few giggles. Ok, so I guess there’s really only one laugh. The rest of the gags are simply those which elicit a disappointed grunt from an audience who’ve already rejected their high expectations for the film. The embarrassing photo album jokes – ha ha, and the sexually inappropriate parents – that’s never been done before. And Robert de Niro! Oh Rob, where did it all go wrong?! No-one’s going to be talking to you after this.

Is there a moral to this story? Well I’ve found two: First, it is important to be happy with yourself. Accept your parents and family for who they are and don’t try to impress others because it will only backfire. I believe that was the message, although it was very subtle. Second, a swearing baby cannot carry an entire film, albeit on its glue-plastered shoulders. 

Shari Last
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