Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 12, 2012)
A huge left-field hit, 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding earned almost all of its money through word of mouth. People – mostly women – saw it and loved it, and it all turned into one of those “and they told two friends” shampoo commercials. A few million friends later, Greek ended up with $230 million in the US, which came to $225 million more than its budget.
I’ll go on the record and say that I don’t get it. Greek occasionally provoked mild mirth – and I do mean mild. For the most part, Greek seemed inane and boring.
We meet the Portokalos family, headed by father Gus (Michael Constantine) and mother Maria (Lainie Kazan). Obsessed with his heritage, Gus can find a Greek root for any word, and bizarrely, he uses Windex to cure all skin ailments. Gus and Maria have three kids: eldest daughter Athena, youngest son Niko, and middle child Toula. We see a little of their childhoods and watch the roots of the pressure Gus and others put on Toula to get married and have kids.
When we jump ahead and meet Toula (Nia Vardalos) as a 30-year-old, she still experiences the same pressures. Actually, they’ve intensified over time, and the fact that Athena (Stavroula Logothettis) got wed young and began to pop out babies – as expected of a good Greek girl – didn’t help. Niko (Louis Mandylor) doesn’t get the same pressure because he’s male; Gus thinks he still has plenty of time, whereas Toula’s past her “expiration date”.
Plain, pudgy and unattractive, things don’t look good for Toula, and she seems stuck inside her shell. However, one day Mr. Right enters the family diner where she works - literally. Customer Ian Miller (John Corbett) doesn’t really interact with Toula, but she clearly feels smitten with him. However, nothing comes from this, though Toula soon decides she needs to expand past her constrictive routine. She signs up for computer classes to become a travel agent, and she eventually signs on to work with her Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin). She also starts to come out of her shell and present herself in a more appealing manner.
On the job, Ian happens to see her through the storefront window, and the pair quickly strike up a relationship. Due to Ian’s non-Greek roots, Toula tries to keep this a secret from her family, but given the huge extended nature of the clan, this becomes impossible, and friction ensues. Gus gets angry and attempts to force other men on her. However, Toula and Ian seem to be made for each other, so the rest of the movie follows their plans for a wedding and the execution of that event.
As a 45-year-old male, I don’t seem to be within the film’s target audience, as it appears tailor-made for women, particularly of the middle-aged variety. (I got the middle-aged but not the female!) Actually, I’ll narrow that further, as I think Greek appeals mostly to the kind of women who love Touched By an Angel and who collect Hummel figurines. It becomes almost absurdly cutesy and sappy, and for the life of me, I can’t fathom what anyone sees in this overdone tripe.
A limp fairy tale, I suppose I should accept Greek as a fantasy. With its cartoon characters and inane dialogue, one can’t try to view it as reality. However, Greek never takes the appropriate steps to distance itself from the real world, so we’re forced to take it in that vein.
This causes some problems, particularly in regard to Ian, who comes across as a form of Perfect Man and no more. Not only is Corbett very handsome, but Ian offers the ultimate sensitive male. He gave up a prospective law career to help kids as a teacher, he totally accepts Toula’s family and culture and never says a peep despite all of the pressures placed on him. He loves Toula unconditionally, though the movie never makes it very clear what he thinks seems so appealing about her; he digs her from Minute One without the slightest clue why.
Vardalos’ broad performance doesn’t help. If we accept her as Ian’s dream girl, this occurs because of conditioning. We’ve seen so many stories with the ugly duckling who blossoms into the swan that whenever we’re confronted with someone unattractive and unpopular, we simply assume that there must be more beneath the surface.
Unfortunately, I don’t see anything particularly substantial about Toula. She displays no particular wit or charm, and though she becomes prettier as she emerges from her shell, she never turns into a raving beauty. We’re supposed to believe that Ian felt attracted to her all the way back in the diner, and this seems absurd. Not only did she look horrible at that point, but also she failed to demonstrate any spark or personality. Greek just wants us to accept his deep affection for Toula without any particular reason to do so.
At times the movie feels like Vardalos’s love letter to herself. Not only does she make Toula a woman able to attract a stud like Ian, but also she shaves almost 10 years off her age! Toula’s supposed to be 30, but Vardalos was pushing 40 when she made the film. Granted, the story needs Toula to be around 30 to work – 40’s too old for the character – but it’s still tough to swallow Vardalos as someone that age.
If the film offered anything real substance, I might more easily accept Vardalos’s fantasies, but the rest of Greek remains lackluster. It presents all the characters as broad and caricatured, and they never elevate above those levels. The participants don’t seem charmingly goofy; they just come across as obnoxious and trashy, at least in the case of Toula’s extended family. Gus appears selfish and mean-spirited in the way he treats his daughter, and the others just appear idiotic and crude. When even the great Andrea Martin can’t make her character come to life, then I know the project’s beyond hope.
Sometimes when I watch a movie, I like it more as I think about it. With every passing moment, I more intensely dislike My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I could continue to ramble more about its flaws – let’s not forget absurd dialogue like “It’s useless to dream, because nothing ever changes!” – but I’ll stop now. Audiences loved this flick, and more power to them; even when I disagree, I don’t begrudge anyone their pleasure. Suffice it to say that I don’t get its appeal, though, as I think Greek provides a boring, absurd and uninvolving piece of work.