Meet the Parents concluded with one of the most obvious “a sequel is coming” moments in movie history, as Robert De Niro’s Jack Byrnes comes to the realisation that he will have to meet the parents of his future son-in-law. Let’s face it, though: when has a comedy sequel actually been any good? 2004’s Meet the Fockers, however, is a pleasant surprise. This is not a stale follow-up which disgraces the original film – for once, here’s a comedy sequel that revisits its world without banally repeating the same old stuff, and manages to improve the formula in addition to actually topping its predecessor in the laughs department. If you liked Meet the Parents, you are more or less destined to love Meet the Fockers. On the other hand, if you detest Ben Stiller and hated Meet the Parents, look elsewhere for entertainment and let the rest of us enjoy this top-notch comedy.
The story takes place a few years following the events of Meet the Parents. Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Stiller) – the well-meaning but accident-prone male nurse – is still engaged to his fiancée Pam (Polo) after winning the approval of Pam’s father; former CIA agent Jack Byrnes (De Niro). With the wedding approaching, it has come time for Jack and his ever-patient wife Dina (Danner) to meet Greg’s parents: free-wheeling hippies Bernie (Hoffman) and Roz (Streisand). Also along for the ride is Jack’s grandson Little Jack (played by the Pickren twins). Jack has been led to believe that Bernie is a lawyer and Roz is a doctor, but the truth is that Bernie stopped practising when Greg was born and Roz is a sex therapist for senior citizens. Before long, the families’ different ideologies begin to clash and Murphy’s Law once again takes hold.
Despite its bawdy humour, Meet the Parents was firmly grounded in recognisable truths about family life and courtship. While the situations and characters were exaggerated for the purpose of comedy, there was always a sense of truth throughout which made it easier to identify with Greg and everything he was willing to endure for the sake of love. For this sequel, Bernie and Roz are not overly realistic, and this is exactly why Meet the Fockers is so funny. Watching Greg’s over-the-top parents interact with the more “normal” characters is hysterical. Plus, we can relate to situations in which parents humiliate their offspring to no end. Admittedly, the conclusion to the film is predictable, but for a comedy it’s the journey that counts. Fortunately, the journey throughout Meet the Fockers is, for the most part, a hoot; providing an almost non-stop barrage of genuine laughs. With this film, director Jay Roach once again demonstrated why he is one of the best comedic directors of all time. He has a firm understanding of comic timing, and he’s deft at keeping his films moving forward at an agreeably brisk pace.
Screenwriters Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg relied on a number of scenarios and jokes that will be familiar to anyone who has seen Meet the Parents (especially since the duo also wrote the first film). Thus, expect a few Focker name jokes, and expect Jack to use his old CIA methods in an attempt to expose “the truth”. It would be easy to dismiss these aspects as being unoriginal, but it all comes together nicely. Why act like a grumpy film snob and complain about something which really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things? Meet the Fockers only stumbles in its final act with Tim Blake Nelson appearing as an overzealous cop who precipitates the obligatory confrontation between Greg, Bernie and Jack. During this section, the laughs cease and the pacing slows to a crawl. Thankfully, the very last scene compensates for this slow patch, as does the tremendous amount of laughs contained within the film’s first two-thirds.
Robert De Niro’s deadpan style once again works like a charm for the role of Jack Byrnes. Much like the first movie, De Niro’s facial expressions are particularly hilarious. And if you’ve ever wanted to see De Niro wearing a fake latex boob, Meet the Fockers is your movie. Ben Stiller also provides a great deal of funny moments, and his interactions with De Niro are constantly amusing. However, it’s Dustin Hoffman as Bernie Focker who steals the show in this sequel, and Barbara Streisand is equally side-splitting as Roz Focker. The interplay between Hoffman and Streisand is priceless. The two stars have known each other for decades, and their long history shows in their very natural portrayal of a long-married but still deeply affectionate and sexually active couple. Meanwhile, Blythe Danner is great as the dignified Dina, and Teri Polo carried off all that was required of her as Pam. The names are huge, and together they make an incredible cast. However, the spotlight is constantly stolen by the Pickren twins who appear as Jack’s grandson Little Jack.
Meet the Fockers has endured criticisms for feeling too much like Meet the Parents from a narrative standpoint. While Meet the Fockers is indeed reminiscent of its predecessor, it’s better that way. The film would have been a disaster if the formula was heavily tweaked and “improved”. Happily, by staying with what worked in Meet the Parents and building from there, this sequel is far better than it had any right to be. Meet the Fockers is not perfect by any stretch, but it is a highly enjoyable laugh riot that’s completely free of pretensions, and the exuberant personalities which were executed by a pitch-perfect cast make the film all the more entertaining. Since the film made in excess of $500 million at the box office from an $80 million budget, yet another sequel was produced: 2010’s Little Fockers.