MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING|
U.S. Release Date:
April 19, 2002
Writer: Nia Vardalos
Producer: Paul Brooks (executive), Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks
Cast: John Corbett, Nia Vardalos
Running Time: 1 hour and 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (sensuality and language)
The good news is that Nia Vardalos's story about a young woman's ethnic family, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, is the summer's surprise hit; it reminds us that mature audiences are starved for a classic romantic comedy, not potty joke flicks masquerading as humor.
It's neither hard to see why audiences are telling friends and family about Greek Wedding, giving the low-budget film longevity at the box office, nor why actress Rita Wilson pegged Vardalos's one-woman show for the screen (Wilson and husband Tom Hanks produced Greek Wedding); My Big Fat Greek Wedding (directed by longtime television director Joel Zwick) is often outrageously funny.
One gets the idea that much of Greek Wedding's audience laughter—and sustained popularity—stems from its guiltless permission to laugh at ethnic jokes in public. Nearly everyone will find something laughable; Nia Vardalos's Toula, the young woman whose Greek wedding is the movie's focus, could be Jewish, Italian or Mexican—or not.
Ethnic jokes, however, do not make a good, let alone great, movie, even if laughing at them feels like liberation from today's stern, Puritanical multiculturalism.
That's the bad news.
Greek Wedding begins as the story of Toula's attempt to break free from her family, complete with Toula's witty narrative recalling her childhood. For the next 90 minutes, Toula begins her journey, falls in love, hides her family from her fiancé and her fiancé from her family, gets married, ends up somewhere between duty and independence and never finishes her journey. It's like watching a female remake of Marty—Oscar's Best Picture in 1955—minus the triumph.
Toula's cartoonish Greek family is hilarious (her cardboard cut-out, uptight in-laws are not)—her coffee shop owner father (veteran actor Michael Constantine) is as archaic as the Parthenon, her Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin) is as delicate as a Greek fisherman and her brother, Nico, (Louis Mandylor at his finest) makes Toula's fiancé, Ian, (John Corbett) say very nasty things in Greek. Every ethnic family joke is here: there's food as love, Big Mamma Mia (Toula's mother, played by the always delightful Lainie Kazan) and an army of smothering relatives.
For all the fun, something gets lost on the way to this Greek Wedding: the bride and her offbeat groom.
Toula's family—who are funnier when she's trying to escape them—are also cruel; they tell her she's old, ugly and worthless. We laugh at them because we're rooting for her. But, long before she says "I do," Toula is dwarfed by her family.
That's too bad; Toula is far more interesting; her transformation from ugly duckling to self-assured swan is a sheer delight thanks to Vardalos, who owns the role, but it is achieved too quickly. As soon as she masters the art of make-up, creates her own career and lands a husband, she's ludicrously letting her mother send wedding invitations in Greek, with her in-laws' names misspelled.
Vardalos and Corbett manage to make their couple's unlikely courtship spring to life with a wonderful sense of romanticism, but that gets drowned out, too, and, before long, we feel like the couple when, headed from the ceremony to the reception, they both pause, take a breath, look at one another and ponder whether they really have to endure what lies ahead.
Toula's self-made soul meeting her mate—and putting her unruly family in their place —- now that might have been worth the fuss. As it is, Toula's big, fat family crowds out the most promising pair in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: the couple taking their vows.
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