I am not a huge fan of comedies of excruciation, that genre of movies that draw much of their humor from some poor idiot’s painful and humiliating loss of control. But I can appreciate the way that the best of the category, like this film’s predecessor, Meet the Parents, play into our deepest fears and let us release tension by making us laugh at the way that poor shnook has to cope when what we hope never happens to us happens to him.
Meet the Parents addressed that most terrifying of moments — meeting the loved one’s family for the first time — and ramped it way up. Gay “Greg” Focker (Ben Stiller) and his fiancee, Pam (Teri Polo) visited her parents, the elegantly patrician Dina (Blythe Danner) and Jack (Robert DeNiro), a former CIA operative with a lot of issues involving privacy and trust. The comedy came from one horribly frustrating and embarrassing situation after another as Greg struggles to make a good impression despite his dirty-sounding name, his unmanly-sounding profession (nurse), and especially as he keeps making things worse by lying, knocking things over, and looking idiotic in a series of badly fitting borrowed clothes. And, as they say, hilarity (or some proximation thereof) ensues.
This time, everyone goes to meet Greg’s parents, the kind of people for whom the term “boundary issues” was created. Just as Greg has finally made it into Jack’s “circle of trust,” Jack and Dina take their super-fitted RV and their super-programmed grandchild “Jack-Jack” and drive Greg and Pam to Florida to meet the Fockers.
So, there’s a reprise of the jokes from the first movie, including the dirty-sounding name jokes, the purportedly unmanly-sounding job — Greg’s father Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) gave up the law to be a full-time dad — and the toilet-flushing cat. There are also reprises of the jokes in this movie. There is a slight but viable joke in the very beginning of the movie, when Greg has to leave a voicemail for his parents and ends up waiting through their incompetent answering machine recording, not realizing that they had not turned it off so including some very personal material. But within the next fifteen minutes, the joke is repeated two more times. That still leaves time for plenty of attention to Greg’s mother Roz (Barbra Streisand), a sex therapist.
But most of all, this is about how Greg, instead of being embarrassed about his fears of his own inadequacy, this time is embarrassed about the external representation of those fears — his parents. He makes the mistake of trying to hide their professions, and has to pay in classic farce terms, by having the news come out in the most humiliating way possible.
The other external representation of Greg’s struggle for control of himself and the way he is seen by others relates to his family’s former housekeeper, Isabel (Alanna Ubach). It turns out that fifteen years earlier, Ben’s first sexual encounter was with Isabel, a detail he omitted in telling Pam about his past. When Jack meets Isabel’s 15-year-old son, a mechanical prodigy with supiciously familiar-looking eyebrows, he starts collecting DNA samples. Meanwhile, Pam has a secret of her own.
Everyone tries hard. They all but climb down out of the screen. Dustin Hoffman kisses everyone, sits on the toilet while Robert DeNiro is in the shower, moonwalks, and spreads whipped cream over Barbra Streisand’s breasts. Robert DeNiro wears a prosthetic breast called a “man-ary gland.” It does not have whipped cream, but it does have breast milk pumped through it so his grandchild will feel that his mother is nursing him. Blythe Danner asks Barbra Streisand for sex tips. And Ben Stiller has to stand before a trophy wall that displays his 9th place ribbons, his bar mitzvah tallit, and his high school jock strap. It sounded like the audience at the screening I attended laughed at these items more because they wanted to find it funny than because they actually did.
Parents should know that there is a lot of R-level humor in this movie. Greg’s mother is a sex therapist specializing in the elderly, and the film includes a lot of explicit conversation about sexual matters, almost entirely played as humorous, including references to masturbation, orgasm, premarital pregnancy, and sex games. There is some very brief nudity. Jack wears a prothetic breast so he can “nurse” his grandchild. There is a lot of purportedly humorous stereotyping of both Jews (loud, effusive, insensitive, and inclined to violate everyone’s privacy), Hispanics (warm and sexual), and WASPs (cold and repressed and inclined to too much privacy). Characters use strong language (a baby’s repeated use of a common insult is supposed to be funny). There is frequent social drinking and comic violence, including forced injection with sodium pentathol and use of a stun gun.
Families who see this movie should talk about what code words they use the way the Byrnes use “muskrat.” They may want to tell some of the stories about meeting their own future in-laws. And they may want to talk about how different families have different ideas about privacy.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original Meet the Parents and other comedies in this genre like the original The In-Laws and The Freshman.