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My Big Fat Greek Wedding (PG)
IFC Films/Playtone Pictures
Official Site
Director: Joel Zwick
Producers: Rita Wilson & Tom Hanks
Written by: Nia Vardalos
Cast: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Lainie Kazan, Michael Constantine, Andrea Martin, Ian Gomez, Louis Mandylor, Joey Fatone, Gia Carides

Rating: out of 5

Mousy spinster Toula Portokalos (Vardalos) is a seating hostess at her family’s 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. That’s the paper-thin plot of Nia Vardalos’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding, currently touted on its web site as “America’s #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. It’s 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! It’s family fare with a vengeance, both palatable for all ages and wholly concerned with an extended clan. Michael Constantine (if you’re old enough, you’ll remember him as the principal on TV’s “Room 222” from the 1960s) is the patriarch, Gus, whose beliefs about women’s 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 one’s partner in life and activism on behalf of one’s children.

Toula’s 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 don’t know Greek from Guatemalan.

Good news: Toula changes her life by taking computer classes! So-so news: It’s not clear whether Toula’s 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 doesn’t 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 romance—clandestine because Toula knows full well that she’s expected to date only nice Greek boys, get married, and make Greek babies. Eventually they’re outed by Toula’s 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 inoffensive—by which I mean, you won’t be outraged that more money than your whole family makes was spent on its making—but it just doesn’t make it. Here we have a story that must’ve been a firecracker of a one-woman show, but which fizzles as a movie. Why? I’m 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. I’ll 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, it’s reportage. If you say your father’s words, with characterization that makes the effect of his words on you very clear, it’s theater. Psycholinguist Deborah Tannen writes about conversation as messages—what’s said—and meta messages—what what’s said actually means to the listener. Here we have other people acting out Vardalos’s metamessages of the events, and it doesn’t 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 you’re desperate to take your kids out to see something that won’t 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 it’s destined for this fall fits it just about right.

Roxanne Bogucka


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

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