Mousy spinster Toula Portokalos (Vardalos) is a seating
hostess at her familys restaurant, the Dancing Zorbas,
when in walks a vision in WASP, one Ian Miller (Corbett),
schoolteacher. They fall in love and get married, amid culture
clash. Thats the paper-thin plot of Nia Vardaloss
My Big Fat Greek Wedding, currently touted on its web
site as Americas #1 romantic comedy!
Using events from her real-life romance with and marriage
to actor Ian Gomez (who has a small part in the movie),
Vardalos created and toured with a successful one-woman show,
also titled MBFGW. Its turned into something of a cottage
industry for Vardalos, as CBS-TV has picked up the project
for its fall pilots. All this attention and good fortune befell
Vardalos because one night Rita Wilson, herself a Greek-
American, caught a performance of the touring show and nearly
wet herself laughing. Wilson then brought the show to the
attention of her spouse, Tom Hanks, whose Playtone
Pictures was on the lookout for family fare.
And is it ever family fare! Its family fare with a
vengeance, both palatable for all ages and wholly concerned
with an extended clan. Michael Constantine (if youre
old enough, youll remember him as the principal on TVs
Room 222 from the 1960s) is the patriarch, Gus,
whose beliefs about womens roles have remained unaltered
despite decades in the U.S. The role of his savvy wife Maria
(Kazan is wonderfully written, demonstrating the balancing
act between love and respect for ones partner in life
and activism on behalf of ones children.
Toulas large traditional Greek family consists not
only of her parents and siblings, but also a multitude of
cousins, uncles, and aunts, all of whom feel perfectly entitled
to have their say about her life. Ian, by contrast, is the
only child of white folks so clueless they dont know
Greek from Guatemalan.
Good news: Toula changes her life by taking computer classes!
So-so news: Its not clear whether Toulas increasing
confidence leads her to change herself (more vigorous voice,
more assertive attitude, plus contacts, makeup, a perm, and
girlier clothes) or whether the change in appearance boosts
her confidence. Bad news: Ian doesnt talk to her until
after the makeover, despite some noteworthy, impossible-to-ignore
behavior in her mousy persona. At any rate, sparks fly, and
these two begin a clandestine romanceclandestine because
Toula knows full well that shes expected to date only
nice Greek boys, get married, and make Greek babies. Eventually
theyre outed by Toulas trashy cousin Nicki (Carides),
and then the fun, and I use the term loosely,
begins, as stereotypically volatile, emotional Greeks meet
stereotypical, sticks-firmly-up-asses WASPs.
We get big, broad strokes of comedy here. The movie is inoffensiveby
which I mean, you wont be outraged that more money than
your whole family makes was spent on its makingbut it
just doesnt make it. Here we have a story that mustve
been a firecracker of a one-woman show, but which fizzles
as a movie. Why? Im betting that in the one-woman show,
Vardalos provided her view of what was said and done,
taking comedic license to exaggerate events and personalities.
Ill bet she played all these characters not as they
are but as she sees them and reacts to them. After
all, if you just repeat what your father said, its reportage.
If you say your fathers words, with characterization
that makes the effect of his words on you very clear, its
theater. Psycholinguist Deborah Tannen writes about
conversation as messageswhats saidand meta
messageswhat whats said actually means to the
listener. Here we have other people acting out Vardaloss
metamessages of the events, and it doesnt work.
Despite some luscious food porn that set me salivating, and
another winning performance by the marvelous Lainie Kazan,
MBFGW offers little inducement to pay for a movie ticket.
If youre desperate to take your kids out to see something
that wont wound their tender sensibilities, or if your
ancestry is Greek (the Greek heritage society members in the
audience were yukking it up), this will do. Just. But the
small screen its destined for this fall fits it just