Meet the Fockers (2004)
Directed by Jay Roach

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and his fiancée, Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo), arrange to introduce their parents to one another. Unfortunately, since Greg's mother Roz (Barbra Streisand) is a sex therapist and his father Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) is an eccentric former hippie, the prospective groom is worried that Pam's deranged father Jack (Robert De Niro), a former CIA agent, will not react well to meeting them. Sadly, Greg's concerns are justified. Not only is Jack horrified by his future son-in-law's family, but he is also nearly driven mad with suspicion when, upon arriving at Roz and Bernie's Florida home, he discovers that Greg may have had an illegitimate son with his parents' former housekeeper.

Jay Roach's Meet the Fockers, while never particularly innovative or realized with any noticeable sensitivity, is a consistently entertaining and often genuinely funny film.

The movie's characters are, for the most part, well realized and their personalities give Meet the Fockers most of its appeal. Although Greg and Pam are fairly forgettable, the former being a pleasant if worrisome individual and the latter a sweet natured non-entity, except for Pam's quiet and submissive mother Dina (Blythe Danner), their parents are hilarious, outrageous caricatures. Bernie is a relaxed buffoon who is more than willing to speak his mind and is not concerned by the restrictions governing ordinary social interactions. He thus, at different points, indulges in very loud sexual activities with his wife while his guests are in his house, attacks Jack during a football game, proudly reveals that he has only one testicle, sits on a toilet next to a shower in which Jack is bathing, and so on. His wife's behavior is only slightly less extreme. She incessantly dispenses sexual advice, even to her chagrined son, and remains oblivious to the embarrassment that her open attitudes and manner of speaking are causing those around her. Jack, however, is by far the most overdone and uproarious character in the movie. He is psychopathically suspicious, cruel, violent, and manipulative. Regrettably, while his terroristic behavior does allow the viewer to understand why Greg is afraid of the man, and is often richly exploited as a source of comedy, his sheer nastiness can, at times, be exasperating.

The various situations in which these persons find themselves are also usually well crafted and are frequently quite humorous. At various points in the movie, the viewer is thus shown how Greg's parents accidentally drop their son's leathery foreskin, which they have preserved in an album, into a fondue, how Greg and Bernie are assaulted by a sadistic local policeman, how Jack feeds his infant grandson with an artificial breast he straps to his chest with a harness, how that same lunatic injects Greg with sodium pentothal in order to force him to confess to siring a son, and so on and so on. Even as he winces at the painful situations Roach's characters are made to endure, the viewer is sure to find himself laughing.

What is more, while most of these events play out like skits, the director is actually able to tie them together into a coherent whole, allowing the emotions of each scene to spill over into and inform the next, so that the movie does not have an episodic quality to it. He is, consequently, able to keep the viewer engaged with the story he is telling.

Admittedly, several of the incidents Roach depicts, as well as a number of the means he uses to advance the movie's story, are arbitrary, and a few are uncomfortably awkward, but such faults are never so extreme that they greatly detract from the film's quality.

Meet the Fockers is hardly the best comedy I have encountered, but it is, nonetheless, surprisingly funny and enjoyable.

Review by Keith Allen

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