Starring: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand
7 out of 10: The sequel to Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, much like its predecessor, is embarrassing and it is funny. If you found this combination to your liking the first time there is more of it here.
Director Jay Roach and his screenwriters' (John Hamburg, James Herzfeld and Marc Hyman) treatment of humiliating circumstances approaches an art form. I know many who dislike the original because the put-upon boyfriend never evens the score with the judgmental father of his girlfriend. But Roach excels precisely at the creation and manipulation of that tension. It is a piquant sort of comedy, or maybe a new kind of sado-masochism, and this film is in that uproarious and ever-so-slightly-painful-to-watch vein.
Once again the one who we're laughing at, not with, is Greg Focker (Ben Stiller). His wedding date with his fiancé, Pam (Teri Polo, looking decidedly older) is approaching and they're brokering a meeting between his parents and her parents. Her parents we met before in Meet the Parents, the WASP-ish Jack and Dina Byrnes (Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner). His parents are the uninhibited, very Jewish, Bernie and Roz Focker (Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand).
Greg and Pam meet up with the Byrnes, intending to fly down to Florida. Jack, of course, changes these plans and produces a motor home from hell that will not only accommodate the four of them but also Little Jack. Little Jack is the product of the marriage from the first movie (Pam's sister, remember?) and Jack and Dina are watching him, so he comes along.
They drive to Florida and arrive at Greg's childhood home. It's easy to see that Greg has told the same series of white lies about his parents that he told about himself in the first film. He's told Jack that his dad was a lawyer but neglected to mention that he hasn't practiced since he stayed at home to raise him. He certainly hasn't mentioned what his mother does; she's is a senior sex therapist. The Fockers are a very sexual couple (I'm still trying to rid myself of the mental image of Dustin Hoffman with whip cream all over his face in the whip cream-covered bosom of Ms. Streisand). They're also very demonstrative and open about everything, particularly about embarrassing things in Greg's past (Greg's baby foreskin ends up in a fondue). One of the things revealed during the weekend is that Greg lost his virginity to their Cuban housemaid, Isabel (Alanna Ubach, damn funny) and Jack begins to believe that Isabel's son, who bears a striking resemblance to Greg, is actually his illegitimate child.
It would seem to be a very crass, wince-inducing film, which it is. But a number of things save it.
The baby stuff, for example, is hilarious. One set piece, which involves Greg, little Jack, the movie Scarface, a bottle of glue, Little Jack's first word (taught to him by Greg) and a fifth of rum is a joke that builds to a great payoff; that's a rarity these days.
So too does a scene at the Focker family reunion where Jack shoots Greg full of sodium pentothal (truth serum) to get him to admit to Pam that he has a bastard. The tables get turned slightly on Jack when Focker starts to relate everything that he's been lying about or covering up, including his assessment of Pam's mom's looks. Greg relates the wives' tale that says if you want to know how a woman will look when she's older, look at his future mother-in-law and assesses her with one of the best lines in the movie, "I'm a lookin' and I'm a likin'."
This remains Stiller's best character. Greg Focker is a stammering, prevaricating, loving male nurse. He's not so much an Everyman as an Everyloser and he endears himself to us.
Hoffman's portrayal of Bernie—the role of the buffoon--is actually sly. Though it doesn't do so overtly this film answers not-so-burning questions about Greg. I wondered frequently, in the first film, what kind of person, really, would come out to play volleyball in those Speedos. And why did Greg consistently intrude into the Byrnes's family matters? Hoffman's Bernie answers those questions.
And Streisand's Roz makes you understand why Greg can forgive Jack his eccentricities. She's not an Earth Mother, per se, but she is a warm and forgiving character. They're both informed performances, whip cream or no.
Meet the Fockers isn't breaking any cinematic or comedic ground, and it is awfully crass, but it is awfully funny.