We’re here, guys…
Remember My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Who doesn’t, right? The film started life as a one-woman play about Nia Vardalos’s experiences growing up Greek in Manitoba, and came to the big screen after Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson saw Vardalos perform in Los Angeles. This was 2002’s Little Movie That Could, because how often does a limited-run indie film come back to theaters based purely on word of mouth? Who didn’t see it and then quote it afterwards and laugh about it all over again?
For those who haven’t seen the movie, the plot is simply this: Single thirtysomething Toula Portokalos (Nia Vardalos) thinks she’s doomed to wait tables at her family’s Chicago restaurant, Dancing Zorba’s for eternity. Her family is big and loud and in each other’s business all the time. They all want her to get married to a nice Greek man and have babies, but they think Toula doesn’t want it badly enough. It doesn’t help that her dad, Gus (Michael Constantine) is constantly telling her she looks old.
Our heroine might think she’s stuck, but things still have a way of changing. Toula, with her mother, Maria’s (Lainie Kazan) support goes to college and takes some computer classes, and her confidence goes through the roof. She starts dressing better and wearing contacts. She takes a job at her Aunt Voula’s (Andrea Martin) travel agency, where she has a ball talking to customers and setting up vacations. And she meets a cute guy named Ian Miller (John Corbett) who asks her out. He’s a teacher at a Lincoln Park high school and a vegetarian. His first conversation with Toula happens after an old lady smacks him around with her purse.
Only one problem: He’s not Greek. Ασθμαίνω (Gasp).
Naturally, things flourish even though Gus isn’t too happy about his daughter dating a non-Greek. His efforts to set Toula up with the various young men he knows fail miserably, and whether he likes it or not, Toula and Ian get engaged. Although Toula’s dad struggles to accept Ian, there’s not much question where this movie ends up, but it’s a wild, enjoyable ride getting there, and everyone winds up with smiles on their faces.
So why do I think My Big Fat Greek Wedding is worth seeing (or seeing again)? Oh golly, let’s see…
There is no end to these people, and that’s not a slam; there are just so many of them, and they wear their Greek heritage like a prized diamond necklace. They’re a very welcoming bunch, too, so it’s easy to like them.
The familial feeling is not just acting, either. All the cast and crew got really close and stayed friends even after the film wrapped. Plus. Wedding‘s cast and extras are peppered with Nia Vardalos’s own family members and her real-life husband and now ex, Ian Gomez, plays Ian’s best friend and co-worker, Mike.
The gentle comedy.
Wedding’s writing is a real joy. There’s Aunt Voula, who’s a wealth of TMI-laced stories, and crazy cut-ups Nick (Louis Mandylor) and Angelo (Joey Fatone), are always feeding Ian embarassing Greek phrases. Or there’s Maria’s pre-wedding talk with Toula:
Greek women, we may be lambs in the kitchen, but we are tigers in the bedroom.
To which Toula nervously replies,
Ew. Please let that be the end of your speech.
While the movie is not above trolling various characters now and then, it’s not mean-spirited, and it knows when to let things lie. Like Ian’s family. They may not be as exciting as Toula’s family, but they’re never insulted beyond being called “dry like toast.” Vardalos wrote this film with a lot of love.
It also has a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction quality. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Vardalos didn’t have to look too far for her schtick: “The Windex gag comes from her real-life father, also named Gus, who started relying on the product for his ailments after it accidentally cleared up a wart.”
Ian is the audience’s conduit into the Greek-American world, not that there’s a lot of exposition anyway, but he does act as the non-Greek perspective. Right from the beginning of the movie he likes the culture and wants to know more about it. He also loves Toula so much that he wants to become Greek. Her family’s craziness doesn’t seem to intimidate him, either; Ian’s his own kind of goofball, which is probably why he takes Toula’s family in stride.
The food looks really good.
I don’t know about anyone else, but this movie makes me want lamb and spanikopita, not to mention some fresh baklava. My cousin, Nikko is part Greek and he knows how to make lamb Greco-style, so I know it’s tasty. I could probably skip the ouzo, but everything else is fair game. Oh my word, Greek food is awesome. Yum.
We’re all Greek.
OK, maybe not literally, but anyone can see themselves in this very universal and very grounded family, who love each other and protect each other and disagree and work out their problems. We find part of our identities at least on some level, in our family, and while every situation is different, families have a way of shaping who we are, even if they show what not to do.
And culture is only one part of it, because everyone is human. Or, as Gus says, “We may be different, but in the end, we’re all fruit.”
Yep, this is a fun one, and as we all know, it has a sequel, but we’ll go there tomorrow.
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