The highest-grossing comedy of all time, Meet The Fockers served due notice that there are gaudy paychecks out there for aging, past-their-prime icons willing to sacrifice their self-respect in crassly commercial lowbrow comedies. In fact, there seems to be something of an inverse relationship between how much money aging giants make on films like Meet The Fockers, and how much dignity they're allowed to preserve. By that curious formula, Jane Fonda should be able to command something in the ballpark of $100 million for Monster-In-Law. No lesser amount would adequately compensate her for the harrowing gauntlet of humiliation that constitutes her role.
In a performance that speeds right over self-parody on its way to self-negation, Fonda plays a Diane Sawyer-like journalist who's unceremoniously fired from her job, prompting both an on-air breakdown and an extended stint in a psychiatric institution. Upon leaving, she learns that her beloved son (Michael Vartan) has become involved with a lovely, sweet, unfailingly pleasant young woman (Jennifer Lopez) with no apparent flaws beyond underemployment. For reasons that have nothing to do with psychology and everything to do with lazy plotting, Vartan's sunny romance with Lopez throws Fonda into a murderous rage, and she sets out to destroy it. What follows might be considered a war of wits, although considering the intellects of the characters involved, it's more like a minor skirmish between unarmed combatants. Anya Kochoff's script occasionally seems to posit that Fonda's psychotic hostility toward Lopez is class-based, but it soon becomes obvious that Monster-In-Law doesn't care about class as anything other than an arbitrary plot point.
It's equally apparent that the film could care less about Fonda's character's apparent mental illness, which expands and contracts according to the plot's demands. Behaving like Téa Leoni's hysterical Spanglish shrew 30 years later, Fonda is vilified as an aging whore—a career-obsessed, alcoholic psycho who's left lots of ex-husbands and disposable lovers in her wake. For extra-sexist bonus points, the film even attributes Fonda's professional success to her marriage to a powerful man. It's not hard to imagine the militant Jane Fonda of 1972 angrily denouncing Monster-In-Law as insulting Hollywood claptrap trafficking in regressive, reactionary, blatantly sexist gender codes. And she'd be right.