Thursday, December 23, 2010

You've had your fun. Now, fock off.

Who would have ever thought a series of movies would get so much "mileage" (notice my skepticism) out of naming a character Gaylord Focker?

The naming of Ben Stiller's character was probably the cheekiest and most unworthy part of the otherwise quite superlative Meet the Parents, which hit theaters more than a decade ago now. The rest of the film was an elaborately constructed series of awkward misunderstandings and cringe-worthy pratfalls that truly left many of us feeling queasy, in the best possible way. At the end of that movie, there was real blood on the canvas. Not only had we witnessed a very funny comedy, but we'd also seen the darker, non-sitcomy side to what happens when parents don't accept the man their daughter has brought home to meet them, and vice versa.

Since then, not so much.

And maybe it was the decision to put the word Fockers in the title of each subsequent movie that leaves me wanting.

Granted, I'm really only making an informed judgment about a single film here -- 2004's Meet the Fockers. I have obviously not yet seen Little Fockers (which releases today). But Meet the Fockers took a giant dive into sitcom-land after the original film, becoming much more broad and much less funny, even though the introduction of Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as Gaylord/Greg's parents should have been a boon to the production, rather than a hindrance. I don't think it's saying too much to observe that Little Fockers appears to continue in that vein -- more of the broadness and less of the serious underbelly that gave Meet the Parents its edge.

It's funny to think of these movies as family movies, especially since their titles exist primarily to see how much they can "get away with" -- how close they can come to making you think of the word "fuckers." (Pretty close, it would seem.) But the release of Meet the Fockers at Christmastime, which has obviously been repeated with the third movie in the series, seems to have given the whole enterprise a healthy shove into the land of movies that can be appreciated by the whole family. Since this movie is about the kids of Gaylord Focker and his wife Pam (Teri Polo), it figures to continue that family-friendly trend even further.

Don't believe me? Just look at how they've "cuted up" this particular poster, which deemphasizes the cold war between Greg and Pam's father Jack (Robert DeNiro) and gets rid of their "iconic" (there are those quotation marks again) fingers-pointing-to-eyes gesture. Instead, the kids are front and center, and everyone else is listed like you'd list them in a true Christmas ensemble -- like you'd list them in a Nancy Meyers movie (see here for a fuller discussion of that phenomenon). Check it out:

It's just funny to think that this is the logical evolution from a film that grew out of the tradition of such previous Stiller movies as Flirting With Disaster and There's Something About Mary. Movies that are each sweet in their own way, but more than anything are wicked, and definitely adult-oriented.

Then again, the Fockers series is about life's various steps forward -- about growing up. And maybe that's the evolution we're really witnessing with these movies. Whereas first, there was genuine tension between the titular parents (DeNiro and Blythe Danner) and their prospective son-in-law, the kind that might threaten to end Greg and Pam's relationship, now it's the little tensions, the absurdities of an essentially happy family life. As family-by-marriage get to know each other better and grow to accept each other, not everything has to be the cat peeing on grandma's ashes, or has to be the thing that will destroy the whole enterprise where it stands. In essentially happy marriages, sometimes the kids saying the darnedest things is as controversial as it gets.

Still, it's my choice whether I have to like it or not, and still I say: Fockers, please fock off.

But they probably won't. This movie will probably make decent money. See you back here in five years for Teenage Fockers?


Hal said...

Agree with your musings completely, and enjoyed reading 'em.

This movie looks so miserable

Vancetastic said...

Thanks Hal! As you'll see with my latest post, I did actually see it under unexpected circumstances, and it was indeed not very good. However, seeing it with my son seems to have blunted some of its essential badness.