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Parent Trap

Better embarrassing than inflexible

Sara Ivry
December 23, 2004

I met the Fockers, and you know what? I liked them, despite the ethnic clichés (oversexed, touchy-feely) and the surname, designed to elicit giggles from 10-year-olds nationwide. They’re hard to dislike. Compared to the repressed and conservative Byrnes parents, Roz and Bernie Focker are relaxed, outspoken, emotive, and most importantly full of good faith in others, if not in faith itself.

In this dimwitted comedy about intermarriage, the follow-up to the forgettable Meet the Parents, Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman try to win over the local control freak, a hyperbolically scowling Robert De Niro, and his milquetoast better half, played by Blythe Danner. Everything about the Fockers becomes part of an us-versus-them dynamic, most emphatically at their dinner table, where they reveal that their son lost his virginity at age 19 and present an album celebrating his childhood, which includes photos of the mohel at his bris and a saved piece of foreskin.

While the Fockers’ adulation of their child is excessive and embarrassing, for me it paled next to Jack Byrnes’s inflexibility—the movie’s real object of ridicule. Contrasted with the Byrnes’s closed-mindedness, the predictably liberal Fockers’ ebullience echoes the popular understanding of the red state/blue state rift.

But the film is hardly political. Instead it relies for laughs on archetypes whose inherent funniness is unquestioned and accepted and ultimately perplexing. When Owen Wilson appears as a convert and rabbi who’s done kibbutz time and asks, Ma Nishma?—What’s going on?— we’re reminded once again, but not ever why, there’s something just plain zany about them Jews.

Sara Ivry is the host of Vox Tablet, Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast. Follow her on Twitter@saraivry.