Don't lose the invitation to this crazy `Wedding'

The film is adapted from Nia Vardalos' one-woman show

Movie Reviews

May 17, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is ethnic humor at its most broad - which means writer and star Nia Vardalos doesn't exactly win awards for subtlety or originality. But her warm-hearted riff on what it means to be Greek and American, accent on the latter, is really about the universal themes of family and what it means to love and be loved in spite of what good sense tells you.

That makes the film agreeable; what makes it engaging is the welcome presence of John Corbett, best known as the Zen-wise DJ Chris on Northern Exposure. As the non-Greek love interest who stirs up the movie's ethnic pot, Corbett gives the film a grounding that's at once fanciful, because his character remains unflappable despite a barrage of slights and outright insults that would bow any man, and believable, because winning this guy's heart forever would be worth ticking your family off.

Adapted from a one-woman show Vardalos had been performing in Los Angeles, the movie's intent is clear from the opening scene. "Nice Greek girls are expected to do three things," Vardalos announces in a voiceover, "Marry Greek boys, make Greek babies and feed everyone until the day we die."

Much to her father's eternal consternation, however, his younger daughter, Toula (Vardalos), is actively involved in only one of those pursuits: She's a waitress at the family restaurant, Dancing Zorba's. He loves Toula, but he can't hide his disappointment - or his fear that her unattachment could become a chronic condition. "You look so old," he keeps telling his 30-year-old daughter.

Not that Toula isn't concerned herself, simply resigned. She's convinced herself that her older sister got all the looks and the luck (she's married with three boys). To her father's horror, she's even thinking about becoming a career woman!

Then a lanky, good-looking schoolteacher walks into the restaurant, and Toula is immediately smitten. And, wonder of wonders, so is Ian (Corbett). When they meet for a second time, after Toula has given herself an infusion of self-confidence by enrolling in a college-level computer course, losing her glasses and mussing up her hair, he's as smitten as ever, but the difference is with her. She's finally got enough confidence to let him like her. (Toula's transformation is a bit abrupt, but Vardalos makes it work).

Soon, they're agreeing to marry. But what will the families say? Can Ian survive a get-acquainted party for the respective parents where the menu includes a pig being roasted in the front yard on a spit? A wedding ceremony whose guest list seems to include every person of Greek descent in the city of Chicago? A wedding reception at a place called Aphrodite's Palace, complete with fake Greek columns?

That's the real rub here, and the source of almost all of the film's humor.

Old pros Michael Constantine and Lainie Kazan play Toula's parents, Gus and Maria Portokalos, and both wear their roles like an old, comfortable shirt. The character of Gus is written perhaps a bit too broadly - he greets everyone by proudly pointing out how almost every word in English is derived from Greek, and believes Windex cures everything from zits to arthritis - but Constantine wisely underplays, never forcing anything. And after a career of playing broadly drawn mother figures, it's nice to see Kazan allowed to play a woman who's as wise as she is ethnic, as perceptive as she is loving.

It's a comically volatile mix Vandalos has concocted; obviously, after restricting her vision to a one-woman show for so long, she's enjoying the luxury of expansion. The results are sometimes too frenetic, the laughs too obvious and predictable. But director Joel Zwick paces things well, and leavens the lunacy with enough seriousness (including a wonderfully poignant exchange between Toula and her brother) to keep the film grounded in the real.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding may just leave you wanting to experience one for yourself - from the outside, as a guest. Best leave the real thing to the experts.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Starring Nia Vardalos, John Corbett

Directed by Joel Zwick

Released by IFC Films

Rated PG-13 (Language, sensuality)

Running time 96 minutes

SUN SCORE: ***

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