My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Rating:

Species: Chick Flick

Main Cast: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine,  Lainie Kazan

Director: Joel Zwick

I have been getting seriously worried about my chick status. I just have not been enjoying the officially designated chick viewing material. I was afraid after my public scorn for The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, that I might be forced to turn in my chick medallion, code book and decoder bra. Perhaps even get demoted to a lesser role, say that of “gal” or something. But I’m safe. For I have seen a chick movie, and I have liked it. This review of My Big Fat Greek Wedding ought to at least get me off probation.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the surprise box office hit of 2002. Written and starring Nia Vardalos, this little movie had an impressively long theatrical run, even here in the hinterland. The movie chronicles the courtship, engagement and wedding of Toula Portokalos (Vardalos) and Ian Miller (John Corbett). The movie opens with Toula as a plain Jane waitress at the restaurant owned by her family. She has reached the age of thirty, and is not married, much to the dismay of her enormous extended family. In voice over narration, Toula explains that as far as her Greek family is concerned, her job in life is to marry and produce Greek children. We are introduced to her family in all their varied wackiness as she begins yet another day at a job for which she has little enthusiasm.

Her father Gus (Michael Constantine) believes firmly in the patriarchal family system, and that anything can be cured with Windex. Her mother Maria (Lainie Kazan) knows exactly who really runs the family (her) and how it’s done. Toula also has a brother and sister, neither of whom are nearly the disappointment to the family that she has become. Toula finally decides to take some control of her life and, with her mother’s skillful assistance, goes off to college and begins to shake off some of her self-consciousness. Amazingly enough, she also becomes quite a bit more attractive!

Enter Ian, a high school teacher who more or less sweeps Toula off her feet. She hides her relationship from her family, knowing full well that they will not approve of her dating a non-Greek man. She is, of course, found out, and the rest of the movie follows her journey through the rigors of engagement and a wedding with the constant assistance of her entire family.

This is a fairly formulaic movie, there’s no getting around that. It’s a romantic comedy, and as such has romance, comedy, and some angst. The thing that makes My Big Fat Greek Wedding an enjoyable romantic comedy is that the romance is actually very sweet, the comedy is actually very funny, and the angst is actually very minimal and believable. Toula does pull something of an ugly duckling routine, but it isn’t like she’s Julia Roberts made up to look frumpy at the beginning. That is some genuine frumpiness! Her transformation doesn’t make her a beauty queen, just a normal, attractive woman. She’s a little cross eyed, not hideously thin, and clearly has experienced a bad hair day in her life. She is a very relatable character, not some hot shot movie star pretending she knows what it feels like to be frumpy.

Toula’s romance with Ian is just plain sweet. He loves her. He’ll do what he needs to do to be with her, even if part of that involves a baptism in a kiddie pool. The movie never goes the usual route of boy gets girl/boy loses girl/boy gets girl back. Ian never wavers in his commitment, despite Toula’s fears that her family will drive him away. Now that’s just darn sweet!

The comedy mostly revolves around Toula’s loud, gregarious Greek family. This, by all rights, should get old after about fifteen minutes, but the characters are given enough depth to keep us laughing at their well intentioned intrusions and missteps. The scene where Ian’s parents (Fiona Reid and Bruce Gray) come for a “quiet” dinner with the family is absolutely hilarious (especially the tumor story).

The only angst (the part of most romantic comedies that always has me on the verge of voluntarily leaving the chick brigade) is kept at a very minimal level. Toula does worry that her family will ruin her wedding, and that her wedding may kill her father, but it’s all very low key. She doesn’t ever seriously consider leaving either her family or her fiancé; it just causes her some grief. That this is Vardalos’ own account of her courtship and wedding is what undoubtedly helps these features keep their proper balance. A Hollywood scriptwriter would have been milking the angst for all it was worth within the first half hour.

The performances are all outstanding. There is no deep soul searching acting going on here, and not all that much is really asked of either Vardalos or Corbett, but the rest of the cast is a shining comedic ensemble. Michael Constantine’s Gus is wonderful, with his exuberant Greek pride and ever-present bottle of Windex. Lainie Kazan’s Maria is more restrained, but when push comes to shove, she delivers with wonderful ease. Perhaps the funniest role, and performance, is that of Andrea Martin as Toula’s Aunt Voula. She is the one who gets to be over the top at every turn, and pulls it off beautifully. Her years at Second City served her well, and she is very, very funny. The visual humor found in the setting (Toula’s wonderful house) and the mass of her family is used well, and not to excess.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed My Big Fat Greek Wedding (whew!). It’s what romantic comedies should be. Light, fun entertainment. I understand why it was so popular as a theatrical release. It’s just the sort of movie that you can see to take your mind off of your own life and revel in the humor of someone else’s. And in a good way, laughing as much with as at them. It feels darn good to stick my hand in the magic chick hat and pull out a winner. This is a warm and funny film deserving of the praise it has received. 4 stars.

Lainie Kazan

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