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Little Fockers (2010)

Directed by Paul Weitz

Written by John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey

Produced by Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro, Jay Roach, John Hamburg

Starring Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner, Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Jessica Alba, Laura Dern

Tribeca / Everyman Pictures, Relativity Media


Nursing rating 3 stars

Rating guide:
excellent = 4 stars; good = 3 stars;
fair = 2 stars, poor = 1 star

Artistic rating 2 stars

cast Little Fockers

The popular Fockers comedies explore whether Chicago nurse Gaylord (Greg) Focker can meet the challenges of conventional manhood despite preconceptions about his profession, his name, and his Jewish background, but most of all, despite his father-in-law Jack Byrnes, an intense ex-CIA WASP who is obsessed with testing Greg. Mr. Focker was a bit tentative and klutzy in the original Meet the Parents, but he ultimately responded to the male nurse stereotypes that film pushed at him by offering a fairly strong defense of his work. Sadly, the sequel Meet the Fockers associated nursing with friendly mediocrity, suggesting that the job was for those with good hearts rather than keen minds. The third installment, Little Fockers, has been derided as a cynical cash-in, or an elaborate joke, for an ever-expanding crew of Hollywood stars. But the film is actually competent and sometimes amusing, and its treatment of nursing is relatively good. Greg again overcomes misunderstandings and small failures to show Jack why he is the right man for Pam and their two kids. But now Greg is a nursing manager who directs a medical-surgical unit, writes articles for the "AMA Journal," and deals with drug reps, including an attractive, articulate nurse who persuades Greg to moonlight by promoting an erectile dysfunction drug to physicians. That nurse, admittedly, is a glib party girl who tries to seduce Greg. Anyway, Greg also displays some clinical expertise, mainly helping Jack with the effects of a heart condition, though the clinical scenes also have some frat-boy sexual overtones. The film reminds us about society's preconceptions about men in nursing; the director of a private school assumes that Greg and Jack are life partners partly because Greg is a nurse. But what we end up with is that Greg is a regular guy and a talented health professional who is, yes, prone to comic misadventure. When it comes to Hollywood depictions, men in nursing could do worse.

drug repAn early scene finds a suit-clad Greg at Chicago Memorial Hospital. An apparent assistant named Kristen walks with him and gives him an update, TV drama-style. Kristen says someone from the "administrative board" wants a list of "the budget cuts" and "some drug rep from Pfoston Pharmaceuticals is waiting in your office, Andi something." Greg is not looking forward to the drug rep, but it turns out to be a cheerful and very attractive female named Andi Garcia (right).

Andi tells Greg she "loved" the article he wrote in "the AMA journal, ‘Putting Patients First.'" Greg is surprised that she read that, but she says it was "so cool getting a nurse's perspective on the health care crisis," noting that she "actually started out as a nurse" herself. Greg admits that nowadays he does "less nursing and more--" Andi finishes:  "--annoying meetings with drug reps you'd rather not deal with?"

This is mostly a helpful presentation of a nursing manager as a busy professional with real responsibilities, someone who even writes articles for medical journals. The suggestion that Greg isn't doing much "nursing" anymore is a little troubling. Dealing with drugs reps may not be what most nurses envision as the heart of their work, but decision-making about medications and other aspects of the care environment certainly seems to be a key part of the health care enterprise. Saying that this kind of work is not nursing suggests that nursing occurs only at the bedside, as if it is simply physical care, without an intellectual component. GregBut nursing away from the bedside--by scholars, public health nurses, and nurse managers--is still nursing.

Andi urges Greg to consider helping Pfoston with its new drug Sustengo, confiding that while they "usually hire doctors to lead our presentations," she thinks Greg has "the potential to be a medical superstar." Andi explains that Sustengo is an erectile dysfunction drug that is safe for heart patients. She moves close to Greg to explain that

in addition to increasing the penile blood flow--see that penis?--it acts as a beta blocker to keep the heart rate down during intercourse.

Greg seems uncomfortable, but just then "Nurse Focker" is paged to a patient's room.

With Andi tagging along, Greg finds a nurse named Lewis struggling to give a male patient an enema. The patient finds Lewis to be a "barbarian"; Lewis reports that the patient is clenching. Greg says that they will try to do it a little bit more gently. Andi suggests that the patient extend his left leg, and put his right knee right up to his chest, to "help relax things down there." Greg agrees, and advises the patient to "grab the side of the bed there like that, and exhale." Andi confirms that Lewis "sufficiently lubricate[d] the nozzle," and Greg and Andi complete the procedure together. As they do, they get a little dreamy, with Andi talking about "relaxing your anus" and Greg comparing it to a "flower opening up" to receive "a little friendly visitor." Andi says she's "just gonna stick it in a little further," and Greg concludes that it's a "good smooth insertion," so he will "release the clamp and let it flow." The patient is relieved. Outside, Greg compliments Andi's technique, and she says, with real enthusiasm, that the procedure was "so fun." But Greg says he just doesn't "have time to moonlight pitching a drug right now."

Andi:  I get it. Running nursing and med surg is a big job.

Greg:  Yeah, so big I'm making less than I did when I was in the ER? 

Andi:  Look, we are sponsoring a convention at the Hilton. You can make tons of dough for like one speech. Think about it.

movie posterOf course these scenes are trying to get comic mileage from the sexual overtones inherent in Andi's enthusiasm for the ED drug and in all three nurses' roles in the enema. Nursing does not really need to be associated more closely with sexuality. But the scenes also convey that Greg and Andi have expertise in guiding patients through this sensitive procedure, and they do not suggest that nurses are sluts, or that they are sexually available to patients or physicians. Andi is starting to show sexual interest in Greg, but that is not really the naughty nurse stereotype. If anything, the sexual elements here underline that Greg is a straight male, countering the gay stereotype that the Focker films toy with. Greg's possible role promoting Sustengo is also double-edged. It's a little troubling when nurses are presented as being skilled because they can do something that physicians often do, and promoting drugs is not the role for which physicians are most admired. Yet the film is clearly suggesting that Greg is smart and talented enough to do it. Of course, the movie isn't really interested in the ethical issues implicated by the drug promotion. Greg is not eager to see drug reps, but the film doesn't say why. Similarly, Greg writes about the "health care crisis" and he must make "budget cuts," but none of that is pursued dramatically. These are just minor plot devices, but having Jack and GregGreg express some reasonable position on these issues might have helped convey to viewers that he is a serious professional. One odd thing the film does suggest is that nurse managers earn less than emergency department staff nurses, which is not typically the case; it may undermine viewers' respect for nursing to think that the profession is anomalous and irrational in that respect.

Meanwhile, Greg's father-in-law Jack is distressed because the son-in-law he thought would lead the family after him, a physician named Bob, is getting divorced from Jack's other daughter. Apparently this physician was having an affair with a nurse! And that is an unhelpful, albeit minor, reinforcement of the naughty nurse image. This situation is stressing Jack out, and soon he has a heart attack at his house. Jack is so macho that he not only calls 911 himself, but he uses an in-home defibrillator to defibrillate himself. Jack later calls Greg and, disclosing his health problem, extracts a promise that Greg is willing and able to be the "GodFocker" and lead the family after Jack dies. Part of the joke here is the roles that the actor playing Jack, the legendary Robert De Niro, had in landmark films about the Mafia.

Jack and his wife Dina arrive in town for the birthday party of Greg's kids. Jack and GregAt dinner, Jack asks Greg to cut pieces off a turkey, an honor Greg gladly accepts. Dina asks how Greg likes his new job.

Greg:  Well, I'll tell you Dina, it's a lot of responsibility on my plate, but that's kind of what I love about it. I mean, the opportunity to manage an entire unit--

But as Greg is saying this he's not watching his cutting. Greg's son has a pet gecko, which gets loose. When the gecko startles Jack, that startles Greg, who cuts his finger badly. Blood spurts everywhere, going all over their clothes--a typical awkward-Greg-Focker moment.

Jack and GregThe film begins to pile on. An old family friend named Kevin arrives. He is a wealthy investment banker, and now a globe-trotting spiritual seeker and philanthropist, who has always been romantically interested in Greg's wife Pam. Kevin's girlfriend just left him after he made a marriage proposal that was too informal--which Kevin suggests was Greg's fault because Greg had advised him to keep it simple. Now Greg's son is having trouble sleeping. Kevin puts his son to sleep by using a "still point," an Eastern medicine technique, to gently ease the flow of cerebral spinal fluid! Jack is starting to think that Kevin would be better for Pam than Greg is. And the movie proceeds down the usual track, as misunderstandings, bad luck, biases and unfair assumptions conspire to make Greg appear inadequate, at least to Jack.

The next day, Greg and Pam are scheduled to tour the private Early Human School as a possible option for Greg's kids. Naturally, the elite school is directed by a "dear friend and ex-lover" of Kevin's named Prudence. But the next day, Pam is sick, and Jack and Greg end up doing the tour. They meet Prudence, and she asks what they do for a living.

Greg:  I'm a nurse.

Jack:  He's being modest. He's actually the department manager of the medical-surgical unit at Chicago Memorial Hospital. And I am a retired florist.

Prudence:  What a combination, a nurse and a florist. How great! May I ask how long you've been in each other's lives?

Pam and GregGreg and Jack don't get what Prudence is assuming, and they continue discussing their relationship in a way that is consistent with being a couple. Finally they figure it out, and Greg makes a joke about being flexible about his sexual orientation if it would help his kids be admitted under some quota system. Jack informs Prudence that Greg's actual name is "Gay." Greg says he prefers "Greg." Prudence suggests they "stick with the truth."

Prudence's remarks about the nurse-and-florist combination clearly mean those two professions are known for being populated by gay men. The film isn't directly criticizing male nurses for being gay, but it is exploiting the stereotype for cheap laughs. And Jack's statement that Greg is being "modest" to say he is a nurse is an insult that is not directly refuted. On the other hand, Greg's statement is itself a helpful indication that despite his management role, he is still a nurse.

Later events further erode Greg's standing with Jack. When Greg, Jack, and Kevin go to check on Greg's new house, Greg ends up accidentally dumping a truckload of sand on Jack, burying him. Greg digs frantically, but it is Kevin who locates Jack, who looks like he wants to kill Greg. Meanwhile, we see Greg on the phone telling Pam he's going to do the Sustengo promotion because they need the money for the house renovation. Andi bursts into Greg's office, saying she is "so stoked" he changed his mind and that he is "going to rock those urologists tonight." Pam can overhear this and becomes a little suspicious, given what they'll be doing at the hotel. Greg says Andi is an "ex-nurse" and Pam would not pick her out of a crowd, presumably meaning she is just average-looking. Greg's daughter overhears this, and later tells Jack that Mommy got mad because Daddy was "going to the hotel with Andi," who "gives Daddy his boners."

At the Hilton, Greg tells Andi that he "went over the drug info" and thinks he has "the science down pretty well." She responds that "these doctors don't care about that stuff," and that if he wants to "sell a drug like Sustengo," he has to "make it personal." Does he "know any sexually frustrated old dudes with a heart condition?" Greg rocks the urologists by using stories about the crazy stuff Jack has done to him over the years. Andi's thrilled. Before leaving Greg runs into Dr. Bob, his former brother-in-law, who is there for the convention. Bob wants to know why Greg is there. Greg says he's "doing some work for Pfoston as a medical expert." Bob responds:  "But you're a nurse." Unfortunately, rather than address that issue, Greg simply says that he has nothing to say to Bob. Bob says he knows he screwed up, but there is too much pressure being in that family, noting that Jack groomed him just as he now is doing to Greg.

Meanwhile, back at Greg's house, Jack has found a stash of free Sustengo samples Greg left there, and because Dina wants sex, Jack decides to take one. When Greg arrives home, he notices that Jack has a problem "down there"--evidently he's had a reaction to the Sustengo. Jack admits that he has taken the drug, but notes that the label says it's safe for heart patients.

Greg:  Yes, but you need a prescription after you've had a thorough examination. How long have you had that…situation for? If you've had that for more than four hours, you could bust a capillary and have serious permanent damage. How long have you had it?

Jack and GregJack admits it's been five and a half hours.

Greg;  Jack, you've got to get to an ER right now and get a shot of adrenaline to counteract that drug.

Jack:  You're a nurse, don't you have that kind of stuff in the house?

Greg:  Yeah, I have an epi kit, but I'm not gonna give you a shot there, OK?

When Jack refuses the ED, Greg agrees, and acts as professionally as one could expect in this situation. But right at the critical moment, Greg's son bursts into the bathroom where they're doing it. Everyone screams. Later, Greg claims he was helping grandpa Jack make a wee-wee.

The Sustengo scenes are mainly intended to place Greg in awkward situations, but they also show that he has some health care skills. He can master the science involved in promoting the drug, he can hold his own in a room full of physicians, and he knows how to manage Jack's condition, which he does, despite the obvious difficulties.

Later, at the hospital, Andi tells Greg that Pfoston wants the two of them to lead a conference in Maui the following month. Meanwhile, Jack is trying to sell Kevin to Pam as a "course correction"--a replacement for Greg. The family arrives and sees Greg and Andi, and all are suspicious of Greg's intentions. Greg and Jack have it out, and Greg stalks off. Andi gives Greg a ride to his new house, where he plans to sleep that night. Later, Andi returns with wine and Chinese food. Andi takes some Sustengo, becomes inebriated, and tries to seduce Greg, and although he resists, Jack arrives and manages to misinterpret the situation from outside the house. Jack leaves, and Greg and Andi end up passed out at the bottom of a pit in the back yard.

Barbra and kidsThe next morning, Greg reconciles with Pam at the twins' birthday party, held at Kevin's palatial estate. Greg tries to apologize to Jack for his part of the dispute, but Jack is not having it because of what he saw the night before. Jack actually starts a physical fight with Greg. During the course of this, Jack confronts Greg about Andi. Greg says, truthfully, that nothing happened. They finally stop when they see Jack's cat starting to eat his grandson's gecko, which is essentially the film's MacGuffin, a plot-driving element that major characters in a film desperately seek, made famous by Alfred Hitchcock (and there the film's resemblance to Hitchcock ends). Suddenly, Jack has chest pain. Kevin arrives, and starts doing something with his hands that is apparently intended to help Jack. Greg asks Jack if he has his nitro tabs with him. He doesn't.

Kevin:  Greg, he's not responding to my treatment.

Greg: Really? Your waving your hands over him? He's not a Ouija board, Kevin. Pam, call 911. Kevin, could you go up to the house and get us some aspirin?

GeckoThey comply. And without leaving Jack, Greg catches the cat and (using a Heimlich maneuver) gets it to disgorge his son's lizard. The paramedics arrive and confirm that Greg did a good job. Jack says he knows Greg was telling the truth about Andi, and also suggests that the new family patriarch was never going to be Dr. Bob, it was always Greg; he's "the Greg Focker." In a later scene, Jack invites Greg to make a toast because they are in Greg's house, but Greg says he has no desire to seem like he's in charge of anything. His toast just celebrates them being together.

The film certainly includes elements that will make some nurses cringe. The filmmakers are still having a little too much fun with the gay male nurse stereotype. And some of the scenes with Andi do not necessarily present nurses as serious professionals. She is a nurse herself, and although she appears to be knowledgeable and bright enough, she's also a bit of a superficial party girl who abuses drugs and drunkenly tries to seduce Greg. Of course, because he is a nurse, rather than a physician or patient, it does not reinforce the naughty nurse too strongly (since the naughty nurse usually has sex with either patients or physicians).

Jack and GregBut the portrayal of Greg is what most viewers will focus on, and it's not bad for nursing. Although Greg certainly has his setbacks, the early scenes present him as someone with genuine authority at the hospital and in his professional community--an actual nursing leader. And the later scenes not only redeem Greg in the eyes of Jack and the other characters, but they also present Greg as a competent health professional. He manages Jack's heart event expertly, asking about the nitro tabs, giving aspirin, and taking charge. Greg even saves the gecko's life!

Maybe he is the GodFocker.


Reviewed by Harry Jacobs Summers
Nursing Editor: Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN
Reviewed August 4, 2011

Also see our reviews of:

  Nursing rating Artistic rating

Rating guide:
excellent = 4 stars; good = 3 stars;
fair = 2 stars, poor = 1 star

Meet the Parents 3 stars 3 stars
Meet the Fockers 1 1/2 stars 2 stars


The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.


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