Everybody is secretly afraid to introduce their friends to their parents, let alone bring home that special girlfriend. At least half of those people are probably right to be worried. “Introducing the Dwights” gives us a never-really-was comedienne mom with a borderline personality and a down-on-his-luck security guard dad while “Meet the Fockers” gave us a couple of cartoonish and eccentric new-age hippies. The question before us isn’t which is the better film (although we’ll get to that, too) but which set of parents is the most original and cinematically entertaining: which ones you just have to go meet.
“Introducing the Dwights” is a seriously-funny movie, meaning that it has its very funny moments but is, overall, a serious film. Originally released as “Clubland” in Australia, it’s been picked up by Warner Independent for release here in the United States.
In any case, it’s a dysfunctional family dramedy about a young man’s coming-of-age in the very long shadow of his larger-than-life and super-controlling mother. It’s a good movie, not quite great, but our focus here in on Brenda Blethyn as Jean Dwight, a middle-aged mother of two grown sons who was once a rising star in her native England. She’s divorced from John, a one-hit-wonder of a country singer, but he’s basically supporting material only. Blethyn’s Jean, however, is center stage in the movie and it’s all about how her character simultaneously feels like her career was short-circuited by her two grown sons, and that they need to be totally dependent and subservient to her wishes. Jean’s an overwhelming personality whose few comedy gigs showcase a talent that, if it ever really had a chance, has long since become stale, predictable and, frankly, awful.
The Defending Champion
“Meet the Fockers” is the sequel to the hysterically funny “Meet the Parents” (equalled only by “The 40 Year Old Virgin” in screamingly loud audience howls of laughter in the theaters I saw them). “Fockers” got its share of laughs, too, but it didn’t have to try very hard, and didn’t. What it did do, however, was bring in the other set of parents (“The Fockers,” get it?) and cast them big with Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand. They play Roz and Bernie Focker with such gusto and glee, shredding their real-life images, that they become the only reason to see this film. She’s a sex therapist specializing in advice to old Jews in Miami’s Coconut Grove and he’s a retired attorney who spends his spare time learning Brazilian dance-fighting and making sexual innuendo about boffing Barbara. They are, without question, gloriously over-the-top and feel like a couple of party-crashers in everybody else’s movie who will talk about anything at all, completely unfiltered, no matter how uncomfortable or embarrassing.
Saying that the Fockers are over-the-top is not a slam. The whole movie is, and they work like magic inside it. The level of discomfort they bring to other characters is extremely comfortable for the audience to watch while the level of discomfort that Jean Dwight spreads over her world is equally hard-to-bear for the audience. Another studio versus indie stand-off, basically.
As for the sons these parents are embarrassing, you have Ben Stiller’s Gay Focker and Khan Chittenden’s Tim Dwight. It’s all tone here. Gay Focker is as real as his name which is to say, not at all. Tim Dwight feels like the awkward 20-year-old he plays. Gay is constantly mortified by his parents, despite their likeability, while Tim is constantly trying to please his mother, despite her unlikeability. “Meet the Parents” may have been Stiller’s movie but “Meet the Fockers” reduces him to a supporting role. Tim wins over Gay as the aggrieved off-spring.
Both films have key things to say about the relationships between sons and mothers, in particular, and about the need to stand on your own, especially when you’ve found a girl to replace mom in your life.
My favorite character in “Introducing the Dwights,” however, was neither mother or son, but dad, played by Frankie J. Holden, because he feels the most real. He’s likeable and a little sad, but he tells it like it is when he needs to, and seems to have accepted his family and how he fits (or doesn’t) at this stage.
“Introducing the Dwights” is definitely worth seeing if you have an art-house theater in your neighborhood. You won’t love every moment, but you will feel like you got your money’s worth. In actual fact, it’s a better film than “Meet the Fockers” — despite their wildly divergent tones. Remember, though, this Smackdown is about which set of parents feel the most original and entertaining.
On that score, it’s still a fight to the finish. The winner is…
If you haven’t seen it, it’s time to rent “Meet the Fockers” because you will love watching Roz and Bernie and you’ll either come away wishing you had crazy, harmless parents like them or thanking God that you don’t. Either way, they’re the parents you should meet first. If you’ve already met the Fockers, give the Dwights a shot, in a theater near you, but not for long.