This is an analysis of the entire Meet the Parents franchise, thus its length. “Franchise Reviews”, as I call them, will happen if I feel they are deserved, but this will only be on special occasions.
Film franchises are Hollywood’s backbone. They bring studios large sums of money, launch little-known stars into A-listers, and provide quality entertainment for entire generations. My generations has been lucky enough to have a few great film series: Harry Potter will be a staple in my house, and Transformers will entertain my 14-year-old son (Should I end up having a son). These franchises also launched the careers of some very fine actors into hyperdrive and were epic game-changers for their respective genres.
However, there is another film series that should be recognized for its importance. This franchise proved that you could make a witty, raunchy movie for adults and still make money. It arguably launched comedian Ben Stiller from TV star to box office gold, and gave Robert De Niro a chance to show his funny side. I am referring to what I like to call “The Fockers Trilogy” made up of Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, and, the main subject of today’s review, Little Fockers. These films made me love Ben Stiller, as his straight-faced demeanor and likeable lead character helped me sympathize with him immediately.
The series follows male nurse Greg “Gaylord” Focker (Stiller) in his attempts to marry girlfriend Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo, where did she go?) The thing standing in his way: Her ex-CIA father Jack (De Niro). In the original film, Jack doesn’t trust Greg because he believes he will hurt Pam, an honest concern that I will likely have when my daughter brings home her fiancé (though not to the degree that Jack possesses). They have to stay at the Byrnes’ residence for the weekend and attend the wedding of Pam’s sister. The film works because of its witty script, good chemistry between De Niro and Stiller, and awkward/darkly comedic tone. While some criticized it for having a sitcommy approach (which I agree with), the actors pull it off enough to make me forgive that. If you like Ben Stiller’s humor, you’ll enjoy this. See it. I give it 4 out of 5 stars (One of the best of its genre)
4 years later, Meet the Fockers was released. It was technically a repeat of the first film, but we met Greg’s wildly unconventional parents Roz (Barbra Striessand) and Bernie (Dustin Hoffmann). Bernie is a “chill” lawyer and Roz is a geriatric sex therapist. As one would expect, Greg is rather embarrassed by this, and hopes that his parents’ oddities will not cause Jack to force Pam away from him. This installment, while not as subtle or clever as the last, still provides plenty of laughs due to well-structured raunchy gags, some good wit, and totally dedicated performances by the entire cast. The film makes me laugh several times whenever I watch it, and that is very rare for a comedy sequel that technically didn’t need to exist (despite the deliberate sequel-bate dropped at the end of the original). See it. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars (Above Average)
Now we get to the big one. The one that took everything good about this series and totally messed it up. Yep, I’m talking about Little Fockers. Everything that could be wrong with a comedy is wrong with this film: Bored-looking actors, dull camerawork, repetitive, lazy music, and, worst of all, a totally unfunny script.
The final installment follows Greg and Pam (who were married at the end of the last film) as a couple with two children. Greg is now a Resident Nurse, and Pam, well, we don’t know what she’s doing because she has not been very well developed throughout this series. Jack and Greg’s relationship is finally on the positive side, totally deflating the tension between these characters for the first 40 minutes of the film.
The plot of this film jumps all over the place: First, Greg is verbally accosted by a sexy drug rep (Jessica Alba simultaneously providing the most unbearable performance in her career and the best in this film), then to Jack wanting Greg to become “The GodFocker”, as Jack has had a heart attack recently and doesn’t want anyone to know about it. Then you have the subplot about an expensive, but poorly named preparatory academy for young children (The Early Human School, how creative), then finally another subplot where Jack believes that Pam’s ex-boyfriend Kevin (Owen Wilson getting way too much screentime) is better for her than Greg, even though Greg has been trying to get with this girl for 8 YEARS. Seriously, Jack needs to take a chill pill here.
This entry lost both the director and the studio backing it. Instead of DreamWorks, we get Paramount, and instead of Jay Roach, also known for the Austin Powers films ,we get Paul Weitz, who brought us American Pie. I like that film a lot, but its juvenile humor is in complete opposition to the more witty style of this franchise. For example, there is a scene where Jack and Greg are mistaken for a gay couple because Greg is a nurse and Jack’s CIA cover is a florist. Not only is this completely unfunny, but also extremely homophobic.
Paul Weitz is on autopilot here, never using the camera to get across themes or ideas in the way Roach did. Examine this classic dinner scene from the first movie, where the most awkward grace ever is spoken.
Notice that Jack at the head of the table, “above” everyone else (including his wife Dina, played by Blythe Danner). This helps us see that Jack is the alpha and omega of the family. Meanwhile, Greg is sitting with Pam and Dina, representing that they are “on his side”. The placement of characters in a scene is very important in getting a message across, and the film does that brilliantly, so brilliantly that I didn’t notice it until watching the film for this review.
Unfortunately, Little Fockers doesn’t know about that. There are no deep themes or ideas in this film, just a bunch of raunchy gags in scenes that feel strung together with a 100 million dollar price tag. In closing, the humor is dumb, the characters are idiots, and the possibility for a good story was totall lost. Little Fockers, you are out of my Circle of Trust. I give it 0 out of 5 stars.