Surprisingly, it is Ben Stiller, who so wanted Hoffman and Streisand in the film, who does not convey enough love for his parents—and that is because he does not convey enough feeling of any kind in the film. I found myself watching his face and wondering what, other than discomfort, he might be feeling.
Reviewed by Daniel Garrett
Meet The Fockers
Starring: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller
Director: Jay Roach
Format: Color, Closed-captioned, Widescreen, Dolby
PG13, Universal Studios, DVD Release Date: April 19, 2005
Run Time: 116min
I was not sure what to expect from Meet the Fockers, as I had not seen the film that came before it, Meet the Parents, about a young Jewish man’s meeting his fiancée’s white Anglo-Saxon protestant family (the father worked in government intelligence and has the distrustful, imperious manner to prove it). Ben Stiller played the young man, and Robert DeNiro his prospective father-in-law, Jack Byrnes; and both are back in the new film. Meet the Fockers is about both sets of parents meeting in Florida where the elder Fockers live on a lush, comfortable estate. The humor in the film is at once funny, human, topical, and crude: humor comes out of differences in style and politics, as well as bathroom and bedroom references. I was not embarrassed or offended by even the most emphatic aspects of the humor. I think there is an honest vulgarity and a dishonest vulgarity; and honest vulgarity accepts and articulates the facts of life, which include sex, sweat, excrement, and death, in situations where they would naturally occur or where one could reasonably expect them to be spoken of. Dishonest vulgarity presents these same facts for our appreciation or approval without adequate context, understanding, or taste, and while the movie has some dishonest vulgarity (such as the DeNiro character constructing a fake breast with which to feed his grandchild), much of the vulgarity is honest. I remembered and laughed at scenes in the film not only the next day but for weeks (actually, a couple of months) after seeing the film. Why? The young man’s parents are Ben Stiller’s film-dream progenitors, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand (he sought both for the film). Hoffman, as a trained lawyer and stay at home dad, and Streisand as a successful author and sex therapist, create characters of eccentricity, intelligence, and warmth; and the love the Jewish parents have for their son is the most attractive thing about them. The defining traits of Hoffman’s character are his charm and passion (he smothers his son with kisses when he sees him), and Streisand’s character is defined by a shrewd but caring intuition (she registers that her son is too compromising around his girlfriend’s father). The two parents are like infatuated teenagers around each other; and the great thing is that they’re not teenagers. The Fockers and the Byrnes represent, in general terms, the sensual and the sexless, the liberal and the conservative, and the comic and the almost humorless. Surprisingly, it is Ben Stiller, who so wanted Hoffman and Streisand in the film, who does not convey enough love for his parents—and that is because he does not convey enough feeling of any kind in the film. I found myself watching his face and wondering what, other than discomfort, he might be feeling. Also, DeNiro’s character seemed a little too harsh to me. Teri Polo plays the fiancée, and Blythe Danner her mother, and their characters embody feminine decency and common sense. The film was directed by Jay Roach; and the film’s writers include James Herzfeld, John Hamburg, Greg Glienna, and Mary Ruth Clarke (the story is by Herzfeld and Marc Hyman). I cannot imagine what the future will make of this film.
About the Reviewer: Daniel Garrett, born in Louisiana and a longtime resident of New York, is a graduate of the New School for Social Research. His work has appeared in The African, AIM/America’s Intercultural Magazine, AllAboutJazz.com, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black American Literature Forum, Changing Men, The City Sun, Frictionmagazine.com, The Humanist, Hyphen, Identity Theory.com, Illuminations, Muse-Apprentice-Guild.com, Option, PopMatters.com, Red River Review, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, TechnologyReports.net, 24FramesPerSecond.com, UnlikelyStories.org, and World Literature Today.