Tuesday, January 25, 2005

"Meet the ____": Dated, not scandalous

Andrew Sullivan's justified in condemning Rabbi Daniel Lapin (Rabbi Rabbit?!) for blaming Jewish presence in Hollywood for all that is debased and deviant in today's popular culture. But Lapin, though he goes way overboard, is onto something in choosing Meet the Fockers to pick on. I have not seen the film, but I did see Meet the Parents, and have seen commercials for the aforementioned sequel. My lack of interest in seeing Meet the Fockers stems from its premise: neurotic Jewish man falls for blonde non-Jewish woman. Yawn.

Movies like Meet the Parents (and presumably also Meet the Fockers) are designed, strangely, to get nods of understanding from the generation that nodded and laughed along with Annie Hall and Portnoy's Complaint. In other words, the horny-Jewish-man-meets-hard-to-get-shiksa genre had its run but is now dated. It's offensive, too, but offensive doesn't have to mean worthless, and both Annie Hall and Portnoy's Complaint are brilliant portrayals of the mentality behind this now-classic American genre, one that really spoke to its audience at the time. But an older generation had Annie and Portnoy; do we need mediocre versions of the same thing? Does this even still hit home?

The New Yorker piece on Ben Stiller suggests that current young audiences see the Parents/Fockers scenario as universal, with visual gags, silly in-laws, etc, as relevant to all. David Denby writes:

Many teen-age boys are walking masses of libido, too, and Stiller is their man, while girls seem to find his candidate status charming or touching—for all the wild look of desire in his eyes, he’s hardly a threat. For kids, the fumbling Jewish male may simply function as a universal, adaptable representative of their insecurity about their own lives.

Denby's piece is both a defense of the genre's continued appeal and an admittance that times have, in fact, changed. Now I'm by no means saying that crowds of protesters ought to congregate in front of theaters showing movies of the Parents/Fockers variety, but it would be great if the older, movie-making generation would stop revisiting this particular theme, as it is, well, lame.


Anonymous said...

A pal/classmate at Princeton University in the mid-1970s told me that he identified with Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Bananas, etc.) and loved/ howled at his movies. I was surprised that a tall, football playing, preppy, pre-med from Atlanta would say that. Yet, there was the insecurity (and charming diffidence) that Denby cites, even if to outward appearances it didn't seem to apply. --JM

Anonymous said...

While "Meet the Fockers" may be a watered-down version of "Annie Hall," the stereotype of Jews as "insecure" will persist as long as there is truth in it. The world may have moved on since a self-hating Portnoy lusted after shiksas, but there current political and not just historical reasons for Jews to rightly feel--and be described as--insecure, and not as metaphor for generic adolescent anxiety.