MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING
Director: Joel Zwick
Cast: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin, Joey Fatone, Ian Gomez
MPAA Rating: (for sensuality and language)
Running Time: 1:36
Release Date: 4/19/02
Review by Mark Dujsik
The story of My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s arrival to the big screen is one of those happy, Hollywood success stories that everyone loves. Writer/actress Nia Vardalos started a one-woman show, and in the audience one night was Rita Wilson, who convinced her husband Tom Hanks to see it as well. Hanks, obviously, loved it, and now he, Wilson, their producing partner Gary Goetzman, and long-time television director Joel Zwick have brought Vardalos’ story to the screen. None of this has to do with the movie itself, which is, quite honestly, underwhelming, but it would be easy—and entirely misguided—to relate the off-screen accomplishment with the end result. Just because Vardalos has been inspired by real life situations doesn’t mean the movie automatically contains a perceptive honesty or wisdom. Movies have to earn those things, so when Vardalos tries to pass one-joke stereotypes and situations as revelatory characterizations and experiences, it simply doesn’t achieve anything noteworthy.
Toula Portokalos (Vardalos) has grown up in a Chicago Greek family her whole life, and now at the age of thirty, she works at her family’s restaurant Dancing Zorba’s. Her father Gus (Michael Constantine) is convicted to the notion that it’s a Greek woman’s duty to marry a Greek man and have many, many Greek babies. Toula wants more from life, so she and her mother Maria (Lainie Kazan) eventually convince her father to allow Toula to join a computer course. The newfound confidence encourages her to change her usually plain look and eventually helps her to land a job at her aunt’s travel agency. Passing the agency every day is Ian Miller (John Corbett), a very non-Greek man, and the two exchange flirting glances through the window. Toula remembers Ian from the restaurant, but he doesn’t recognize her straightaway. Anyway, eventually the two strike up a conversation and go out on a date, and inevitably, her father learns and disapproves of it. But that doesn’t stop them, and, well, the title explains the rest.
Vardalos’ script is a one-joke affair, and the joke: she and her family are Greek. The movie plays like a standup routine translated literally. It’s all exaggeration and no insight—more like a sitcom than the human comedy it thinks it is. This will probably sound like a misguided criticism, but the Greek angle is played up too much without any payoff. The movie acts as if the only thing that matters to Toula and everyone who happens to meet her along the way is that she’s Greek. It’s like being Greek is some kind of horrible disease to these people. Take Ian’s parents as the biggest offenders. What is the purpose of their characters? No one could possibly be that anal about such a trivial aspect of their son’s future wife. The setup is there—Toula’s family house is gaudily decorated in Greek fashion, Gus points out how every word comes from a Greek root, her family is big—but we simply don’t get the payoff—how these people stand apart from merely being stereotypes.
A lot of other jokes are set up but never fulfilled. Ian’s parents get drunk at a party, and with all the comedic possibilities of such a scenario, they merely sit there, as the camera gets wobbly to imitate their perspective. Toula gets a pimple the day of the wedding (which surprisingly is of very small importance), but she just covers it up. It’s never mentioned again until right before the end. Part of this problem is scripting, but the directing certainly doesn’t help. Zwick’s history in television shows in every, unimaginative shot, and whatever jokes are present and realized are done so with little to no finesse. The cast is pretty mixed. Vardalos is too concerned with showing us everything in her acting but never convincing us of any of it. Watching the scenes between her and John Corbett, who is decidedly good in an incredibly underdeveloped role, is strange. He’s actually talking to her while she plays insecure and recites dialogue. Michael Constantine’s Gus is given just enough depth for it to be affecting, and trivia fans will be interested to note that Vardalos’ real life husband Ian Gomez has a part as his onscreen counterpart’s friend.I certainly don’t hate My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and I’ll admit I found its premise charming. The execution is off. This is one of those feel-good movies, but I don’t think it absurd to think that to feel good about something, it must at least allow you to feel something.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.