Wednesday, July 13, 2011

3) Little Fockers (2010)

3) Little Fockers (2010) Dir: Paul Weitz Date Released: December 2010 Date Seen: January 6, 2011 Rating: 0.5/5

Note: I wrote this piece as part of a deal I made with my friend Tony Oop (not his last name). In exchange for $40, I wrote an overwhelmingly positive Little Fockers review. I got a kick out of writing this piece because it gave me the chance to poke fun of the image people seem to have of me as Armond Jr. or something. It ain't me, babe. The piece is called: Fock to the Future: On the Evolution of Character in 'Little Fockers'

Most franchises don't need to be trilogies. It's sad but true: most of the time, you don't need to see characters do the same things they did in one film in a second film, let alone a third one. I say this after having seen Little Fockers, the best third entry in an American comedy series you're likely to see. That's not hyperbole, folks: this movie is good (perhaps too good...) and totally essential. It's like the way the Alien franchise had to be a franchise for its thematic progression to finally pay off. Ben Stiller is basically a working class man's version of Ripley, a hero whose monster is very real and impossible to placate: father-in-law from hell Jack Byrnes (Robert Deniro).

Universal Studios displayed an incredible level of commitment to Jay Roach's original characters by deciding to stick it out with Greg and totally flesh out his world totally. First we meet his fiance's parents, seemingly the most terrifying meeting of his life, in Meet the Parents. Then his parents have to meet her parents in Meet the Fockers. Both of these events are landmarks in his life but what comes after their conclusion? Life, that's all, or to be more specific: the continuity of the family's future in the form of children. With warmth and wisdom and intelligence--and a little welcome potty humor for the folks at home that like to enjoy their movies--Little Fockers is a generous and very funny bookend and a fitting conclusion to a truly great treatise on modern families in America.

In Little Fockers, Greg has a world of responsibility put on him and it's all related in terms of hyper-real archetypes that should be painfully familiar to any viewer. Greg is faced with every family man's responsibility, all at once. He has to make sure his twins' birthday party goes off without a hitch, weigh the moral implications of selling a product he does not endorse vs. the much-needed money it could provide his family, avoid temptation, fend off Kevin (Owen Wilson), the other man in his wife's life, fend off the wiles of a young, nubile Jezebel named Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba) and then deal with Jack.

Jack embodies any number of Oedipal fears that screenwriter  John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey were smart enough to finesse using a lot of goofy, genial humor that often takes surreal and daring turns, as in the ball pit fight at the end. Jack is transformed into the shark from Jaws in this scene, a brilliant literal iteration of our understanding of the father-in-law as monster image that runs throughout the movie. Jack must control everything, even who will have control over his family after he's gone. That too is expressed shrewdly in another take on classic Hollywood cinema: to be the man Jack wants him to be, Greg must become the Godfocker. He fears he can't do it, of course, and transfers that performance anxiety back onto Jack during a painfully funny scene where he stabs Jack's penis with a syringe full of adrenaline. If you're too prudish to laugh at that joke, I suggest you stop reading now because I've probably already lost you. Who is the joke on if we can't laugh long and hard at our own little foibles? A constipated Focker like Greg.

And boy, can I take a moment to praise some of the other great libidinal twists Greg's neuroses take in Little Fockers? Because, let's fact it: only lazy critics will see this film and see a film series that underestimates its audience's intelligence. Ha! In reality, the filmmakers behind Little Fockers give their audience enough credit to laugh at something as knotty as the perpetual male fear of being emasculated by a temptress like Alba's Andi. And that's wonderfully expressed in the scene where she tries to get Greg drunk and then takes performance enhancement pills. We never see her erection but we don't need to to get the joke: Greg doesn't want to be taken advantage of. By the time she later dredges herself up out of the pit in Greg's new backyard, covered in dirt and eager to see Greg's father's flamenco moves, she has been soundly put back in her place. It's a macho fear expressed and neutralized in ways that Judd Apatow could only dream of expressing so well!

And the actors' comic timing--so masterful. The shouting match between Harvey Keitel and Deniro was especially impressive, the former man putting all of his acting skills into his hips and jowls, practically foreshadowing the unfortunate dump truck-related incident soon to come. Stiller and Deniro lead a master class in funny, delivering their best work in years together. Which in many ways makes sense because their roles were tailor-made for the actors. Everything is in its place in this adept comedy of manners and that's a rare and funny thing, indeed.

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