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Little Fockers

By: Addison Wylie

Little Fockers isn’t the abomination early reports and the bland trailer made it out to be. In fact, it made me titter a few times. However, it was all because of the deliveries of some lines and awkward looks characters would emote. Little Fockers may not be downright bad but it’s an odd comedy riddled with problems. Almost every problem the film has though can be traced back to the inane script written by John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey. Hamburg, who has written past Focker movies, and Stuckey break three important rules one should apply when attempting to write a comedic script. I thought the idea of providing a list of those aforementioned three things may be considered conventional but it’s the only way to simply express to this writing duo what exactly they did wrong and how next time they may be able to keep their script “on the rails”.

#1: Lack of Focal Point

I would love to provide a synopsis to inform others of what to expect story-wise. I don’t think I can but I’ll try. This is because Hamburg and Stuckey can’t decide what their movie should be about. By having the titled named Little Fockers, one would expect a story where the audience follows Greg Focker, played by Ben Stiller, and his wife Pam, played by Teri Polo, as they deal with two new additions to their family. The writing team does write about the children. There’s a portion of the film where Greg goes to check out a school for children that is “the equivalent to Harvard”. Pam can’t attend so Greg brings Pam’s Father Jack, played by Robert De Niro. The two talk to the program director Prudence, played by Laura Dern, and there is an awkward confrontation where Prudence mistakes Jack and Greg for a homosexual couple. We see scenes of the Focker children being involved in initiation exercises to determine whether they belong in the school. This is where Hamburg and Stuckey stop writing about this event and move onto something else. It never gets resolved. This is a clear indication of how the rest of these “stories” are conceived.

The two develop a basic idea, write up a rising action and once they pen the climax, they get bored, drop the situation and never wrap things up. It’s like screenwriting ADHD and it’s frustrating to endure. It’s even more frustrating during the film’s final scenes where Stuckey and Hamburg still have not decided what the main focus should be. Greg’s Mom Roz, played by Barbra Streisand, pops up to discuss how to spice up a marriage. Jack’s Wife Dina, played by Blythe Danner, starts to inquire about these methods. Is the main focus of the film going to be about how to keep a marriage fresh and exciting? Not for long. Jessica Alba plays drug rep Andi Garcia and she begins flirting with Greg at work. Will Pam grow suspicious and think Greg may be having an affair with Andi? The movie focuses on this for a little while but it ends up feeling like a secondary story due to it not being in the spotlight for too long. The one point that is constantly being featured is that the children have a birthday party coming up and the adults must get ready. Hamburg and Stuckey are under the impression that quantity trumps quality. This is wrong. An audience strives for an effective story where they can follow these old friends through another adventure. However, the end product is a script that’s completely aimless.

#2. Continuity

Little Fockers feels faithful in regards to the characters and that’s where Hamburg’s strength is. There are a couple moments where he slips up though. For example, because Jack feels uneasy and is on the verge of having a fatal heart attack, there’s a scene where Jack has asked Greg to take the role as “The Godfocker” in case something happens to him. During the next few scenes with Greg, Pam, Jack and Dina, Greg proceeds to think of the term “Godfocker” in a cinematic view. Greg starts to act Corleone-esque and kisses Jack on both sides of the cheek to welcome him into the house. Luckily, this stale gag is immediately thrown away and is absent for the rest of the movie. If the writers intended on keeping this joke where they portray Greg as smug, they should’ve stuck with it and developed the quirk a little more. Maybe the joke would’ve become funny. By dropping the joke, the audience now has to deal with an inconsistent character. The joke is almost dead on arrival because, in previous films, Greg has never been portrayed as pompous to this degree; it doesn’t match.

The other form of continuity these writers handle poorly is the ability to forget what they set up. Tying in marginally with point number one, Hamburg and Stuckey write attributes about the characters and never revisit them. In some cases, there are scenes that contradict each other. In a scene where Greg is talking to his son Henry, played by Colin Baiocchi, his son admits he has no friends. However, in a later scene at a party, we see dozens and dozens of children swarming around Henry and his sister Samantha, played by Daisy Tahan. If Henry has no friends, how come half the neighbourhood is attending the party? Have all the kids been invited by Sam? Simple errors such as this one could’ve been fixed with another peer edit of the script.

#3. Explaining Jokes

I have no problem admitting that the film made me giggle a handful of times. However, those laughs were aimed towards the jokes that were paired up with strong delivery and a sour or suspicious face made by one of the players in the cast. The jokes that fall flat are the ones where the two writers write in dialogue explaining why the joke is supposed to make you laugh.

Greg and Andi meet for the first time. Greg picks up on the fact that Andi shares a similar name with a famous actor. Greg states that “she looks less stubble-y in real life”. Now, if the joke stopped there, it would’ve had a nice punchline. However, Andi responds by saying “I don’t get it.” Another perfect end point! If Greg muttered “never mind” and then moved the conversation along, this punchline would’ve also sufficed. Instead, Greg then explains how the actor Andy Garcia has a bit of a beard and the joke carries on for a few more seconds. By injecting that line, the timing of the joke is eliminated and the gag falls flat on its face. It also feels as if Stuckey and Hamburg don’t trust they’re audience enough for the joke to get across successfully. What the two have to realize is that people watching the movie aren’t dumb. We know who Andy Garcia is, we know he sometimes grows a beard. Don’t waste our time. Other jokes are also set up this way.

There is one loophole though. Stiller as well as other actors have improvised lines in prior films before so it may be a case where they’ve decided to pepper in their own joke. If that’s the case, the blame is on Director Paul Weitz for not telling them to cut it out.

I hope John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey can take in these criticisms and apply them to their next script. With Little Fockers, the writing pair are lucky that their script was acted out by a very talented cast that know how to improve characters and a story under the right direction. Without these people, the faults would be even more distinct and the finished product would’ve been more of an unfocused mess.

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Categories: Reviews
  1. R. DeFrank
    August 20, 2012 at 2:51 am

    the film had flaws but I like Stiller’s character & the addition of Jessica Alba (from a guy’s standpoint) makes it easy to overlook flaws of the movie (she is stunning!)…Overall I would watch still another sequel…

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