It’s official. The year 2002’s “Blair Witch Project” (that is, a movie no one knew about that opened quietly and finished with a big bang because of good word-of-mouth) is the comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” which besides having the best title for a movie in a long time, is also very funny, if at times a little awkward. The film, in essence, is essentially a dysfunctional “Cinderella” Romantic Comedy.
Nia Vardalos (who also writes the screenplay) stars as Toula, a 30-year old who believes her life is doomed because she was born into a big Greek family set in its ways. In the Portokalos (it means “orange” in Greek) household, men runs things and women are only good for cooking and churning out babies. The patriarch is Gus (Michael Constantine), an immigrant who besides believing that Windex can heal gunshot wounds, is also determined to marry Toula off to a “nice Greek boy.” When Toula begins a passionate love affair with High School teacher (and all-around WASP) Ian (John Corbett), you know the fit is about to hit the shan. (And if you figured out the real words to “fit” and “shan,” good for you.)
“Greek Wedding” sounds and feels like a personal account by Vardalos, and the film is quite good, although it is bothered a bit by clich’d plotting. For instance, is there any doubt Ian will eventually win over Toula’s traditional family? Or that he will eventually be welcomed into their home with opened arms when everything is said and done? Of course not. “Greek Wedding” is a Romantic Comedy, and like all Romantic Comedies, it’s highly predictable and relies on other factors besides originality to keep itself going. In this case, it’s mining the rich comedic fodder that is Toula’s family.
The film doesn’t make fun of the Portokalos, but rather shows them in funny situations. (Re: the film laughs with them.) The movie’s main goal is to shine a light on the Greeks and all their eccentricities, but in the end it wants to say, “See, they may be loud and weird and you might be tempted to run across the street when you see them coming, but in the end they’re just like your family!” Of course this is true, but themes like that are inherent in all Romantic Comedies involving clashing in-laws and “meet the folks”-like humor. Fortunately I wasn’t too concern that “Greek Wedding” was simply treading very familiar ground. It was funny, it had one good joke after another, and its characters were irresistible. What more could you ask for?
Speaking of characters, Vardalos has populated her Greek family with some very memorable ones. Michael Constantine, as the father, is particularly good, and although his delivery was sometimes too stilted, this was believable within the context of him as an immigrant. There’s a cousin whose best assets are in front of her and below her neck; Toula’s brother who dreams of being an illustrator, and who finds courage to pursue his dreams when Toula breaks family rank; and Toula’s grandmother, an old Greek woman who thinks the Turks are trying to kill her, so she sleeps with a knife under her pillow (don’t ask).
It’s also understandable that Vardalos’ screenplay falters a bit when portraying Ian’s family. Even John Corbett (“Serendipity”) as Ian seems less fleshed out than even the most minor member of Toula’s family. Ian’s family is WASP in every respects, but that seems to be all the characterization Vardalos and director Joel Zwick is interested in giving them. These were minor problems, but they were a bit disappointing, especially in light of the screenplay’s overwhelming focus on every single member of the Greek side. Why not invest a little time in the “other” guys, too?
“Greek Wedding” is funny throughout most of its running length, and has plenty of gags and culture clash moments to warrant its 90 minutes. Although the film does resemble an episodic sitcom every now and then, there is enough humor and Greek madness to last the entire film. Just barely, though.
Joel Zwick (director) / Nia Vardalos (screenplay)
CAST: Nia Vardalos …. Toula
John Corbett …. Ian Miller
Michael Constantine …. Gus
Lainie Kazan …. Maria
Andrea Martin …. Aunt Voula
Joey Fatone …. Angelo