My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Director : Joel Zwick
Screenplay : Nia Vardalos (based on her play)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Nia Vardalos (Fotoula Portokalos), John Corbett (Ian Miller), Michael Constantine (Gus Portokalos), Lainie Kazan (Maria Portokalos), Andrea Martin (Aunt Voula), Louis Mandylor (Nicolas 'Nick' Portokalos), Joey Fatone (Cousin Angelo), Gerry Mendicino (Uncle Taki), Stavroula Logothettis (Athena Portokalos), Constantine Tsapralis (Foti), Gia Carides (Cousin Nikki)
The end of the summer 2002 movie season is here, with the studios having taken in some $3.3 billion. There were plenty of big-budget blockbusters that pulled in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office (Spider-Man, Attack of the Clones, Men in Black II), yet the movie that people can't quite stop talking about is My Big Fat Greek Wedding, now better known as "The Little Movie That Could." Defying all expectations and conventional wisdom about how the modern movie industry operates, this low-budget independent comedy has played consistently since April and, now in early September, is sitting near the top of the charts with little signs of waining. What My Big Fat Greek Wedding is showing us is that good movies can become hits based on word of mouth and good reviews if they are given time.
And it is a good movie. It's not a great movie, but it is a delightfully warm-hearted look at the joys and exasperations of both family and ethnic heritage, an ode to everyday people and the joys of romance turning into lifelong love.
Nia Vardalos, who also wrote the script based on her one-woman play, stars as frumpy, unmarried, 30-year-old Fotoula Portokalos, who works in her Greek family's restaurant and has to endure her well-meaning, but often misguided father (Michael Constantine) reminding her everyday that she needs to get married because she's starting to look "old." Of course, getting married is more complicated than that: Like all the women in her family, Fotoula must marry a "good Greek boy," produce lots of babies, and then spend the rest of her life feeding them.
Instead, Fotoula meets and falls in love with a WASP, a gentle, long-haired high school teacher with the bland name of Ian Miller (John Corbett). They have a series of meet-cutes until they finally go out and find that they are perfect for each other, although their families are not. While Fotoula's extended family of boisterous Greek-Americans, whom she describeslargely in terms of their volume (loud) and capacity to eat (a lot), Ian is the only child of a pair of straight-laced upper-class tightwads. When these two families get together, it's no small guess that they won't exactly hit it off.
Yet, for all the conflict, My Big Fat Greek Wedding ultimately comes across as a comedy of acceptance, a story of different-minded people finding ways to come together even if it is against their nature. For every bit of conservative reservation felt by Ian's parents, Fotoula's family must struggle against their urge to mix only amongst themselves. The theme of heritage and ethnicity is woven throughout the film, and the movie gets away with a good deal of broad-based ethnic generalizations and stereotypes largely because the underlying goal is one of acceptance, not mockery. In her script, Nia Vardalos finds a fine balance between the horror she feels at her family's ethnic obsessing (her father claims there are only two kinds of people in the world: Greeks and those who wish they were Greek) and the underlying pride of being part of something special. The movie has an underlying sweetness that transcends some of its broader jokiness, particularly in the way the characters come together because they all find middle ground, rather than one side coming over to the other.
The tone of My Big Fat Greek Wedding is much like Return to Me, another romantic dramedy that came out a few years ago. It is similar to that movie also in the fact that Nia Vardalos reminds one of Minnie Driver: Both are beautiful in an unconventional way and have a special ability to project both inner strength and a deep vulnerability due largely to their tepid self-images. Vardalos scores big with her performance here, and she should since the material is based on her own personal history and she has had time to hone in it her stage act. She is well-supported by a fantastic cast, including Lainie Kazan as her bosomy and supportive mother and Andrea Martin as her obnoxious Aunt Voula (we can forgive the movie that N'Sync member Joey Fatone shows up in several scenes as one of Fotoula's cousins).
The fact that My Big Fat Greek Wedding has turned into a signficant box-office hit will hopefully teach the studio suits something about the nature of movies. The fact is, not everyone is looking for hype and spectacle, but rather down-to-earth stories about recongnizable human beings, and truly good movies can last in theaters if they're given time to develop an audience. Unfortunately, chances are high that too many executives will simply look at the surface and think that ethnic wedding comedies are the new trend, so don't be too surprised if My Big Fat Turkish Wedding shows up at the box office some time next year.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick