My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Starring: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Lainie Kazan, Michael Constantine, Joey Fatone, Gia Carides

Joel Zwick

Writing credits: Nia Vardalos
Distributor: IFC Films
Rated: PG for sensuality and language
  (US 2002)

If space aliens were to land on earth and set up camp in the vicinity of, oh, say, the Angelika Film Center or the Film Forum in New York City, or the Rialto in Ridgefield Park, NJ, or the Pascack Theatre in Westwood, NJ, any of the other mom 'n' pop or art houses tucked away quietly in places you wouldn't expect to find them, they might believe that arranged marriage was something Americans were seriously considering in the second year of the millennium. Earlier this year, Mira Nair's MONSOON WEDDING portrayed an arranged marriage between two spectacularly attractive people who despite the obligatory obstacles, actually manage to become fond of each other before the wedding. In this film, the parents are overbearing, the relatives are colorful, and everyone lives happily ever after. Dover Kosashvili's LATE MARRIAGE is a darker view of what happens when parents are overinvolved with their child's marital decision.

In Nia Vardalos' unlikely summer sleeper hit MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, the overbearing parents are played for laughs, as are the ghastly specimens they choose for their ugly duckling daughter. I actually saw this film a few months ago, but it was so light and frothy and forgettable that I promptly forgot it the minute I left the theatre. Based on Vardalos' one-woman show for Second City comedy troupe, it's the semi-autobiographical account of the (inevitably) homely and over-30 Toula, still unmarried, much to the despair of her Greek immigrant parents (The equally inevitable Lainie Kazan and Michael Constantine). She spies Ian Miller, the man of her dreams (John Corbett, the laconic Aidan from SEX AND THE CITY) while pouring coffee in her parents' restaurant, and embarks on a campaign to meet him. This consists primarily of getting a perm, discovering cosmetics, and dressing in colors other than brown, which miraculously seem to cause her to drop twenty pounds almost instantly. Of course Mr. Perfect is just as charming as she'd hoped, and even better, falls for her too. The parents object, they attempt to distract her with a stream of increasingly awful Nice Greek Boys, but when Mr. Perfect goes so far as to convert, love conquers all and everyone lives happily ever after.

Much of the treatment of family in GREEK WEDDING is so generic that it could apply to just about any ethnic group. A Greek mother is an Italian mother is a Jewish mother is an Indian mother. The assimilated Jew in me wanted to cringe at some of the broad portrayals of swarthy, overly-expressive people who eat spicy food, talk too loudly, and have horrible decorating sense. But GREEK WEDDING is a classic case of "It's ok to knock your own team", and certainly the (presumably largely Greek-American) audience at the Pascack Theatre in Westwood, New Jersey, which is owned by a Greek family and seems to have adopted this film as it's Official House Movie, laughed themselves silly at in-jokes that I obviously missed.

Vardalos, who resembles a slimmer Kathy Nijimy, is the focal point of the film, and John Corbett is his usual Marin County granola-boy charmer, but it's really two supporting players who walk away with the film. It's a kick to again see Michael Constantine, known to most baby-boomers as the harried principal from the ROOM 222 TV series but best beloved by this reviewer as the harried tenant Mr. Ellenhorn from the early 1960's series HEY LANDLORD (and if you remember this show too, write and tell me why). Constantine, as Toula's highly patriarchal and proud father, can find the Greek origin of any word, even kimono; and believes everything can be cured with Windex. Andrea Martin, as Aunt Voula, is nothing short of hilarious. Less successful are Fiona Reed and Bruce Gray as - Ian's parents. These Bewildered WASP archetypes are just too, too, well, too. I would have sold my birthright (if I had one) to have seen, the self-knowing, ironic tightassedness of, say, Buck Henry and Frances Sternhagen in these roles.

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING is such a trifle that if you didn't know that Rita Wilson, a.k.a. Mrs. Tom Hanks was the muscle behind it, you'd scratch your head at why this Lifetime Movies escapee ever got a theatrical release at all, let alone one that's lasted all summer. Perhaps a nice, frothy Cinderella tale is just what we need to distract us from our dwindling 401(k) balances. After all, do men like John Corbett's Ian Miller exist, who not only put up with overbearing families like this but actually convert? Still, I suppose we owe a debt of gratitude to Nia Vardalos, because in the absence of this film, we might have to endure yet another Hugh Grant romantic comedy this summer.

No, really?

Oh. Never mind.

- Jill Cozzi

Review text copyright © 2002 Jill Cozzi and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.


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