My Big Fat Greek Wedding

(Joel Zwick, USA/Canada, 2002)


My Big Fat Greek Wedding proves one thing to Australian audiences. It is not only Australians who make superficial comedies about Greeks who are deemed eccentric in Anglo countries for eating smelly, exotic sandwiches in the schoolyard or sporting ostentatious columns outside their homes.

It is a strange film industry which touts a movie co-produced by Tom Hanks as a brave little 'independent' success. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is written by its star, Nia Vardalos. She plays Toula, initially a sad frump who lives with and works for her parents, Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan).

But true love, sparked by Ian (John Corbett), transforms Toula. She is soon hurled into the complications of a cross-cultural marriage. There's not much plot in this movie, but it knows what the mass audience dearly wants to see: every step that leads to a wedding.

This is a formulaic romance, with some nice vignettes concerning family life. But Vardalos' story also harbours an odd note of misanthropy. Toula's rage and shame at being part of a culture that regards women as "eating, breeding machines" is vented at length. And the all-American alternative, as embodied by Ian's cold, vacuous parents, is rendered even less attractive.

Of course, this is a story of reconciliation, of accepting one's cultural legacy and integrating it into the changing conditions of a new world. Unfortunately, the Greekness of the extended Portokalos family is given no substance or soul whatsoever. Director Joel Zwick is content with the most obvious stereotypes and clichés: bouzouki music, lots of food, kitsch ornaments, and a mad grandmother dressed eternally in black. Actors of many national backgrounds get their shot at exaggerating Greek accents and hand gestures.

Naturally, in a comedy, such superficiality is fairly acceptable. And, on a basic level, this film entertains in exactly the way it intends to. But putting it next to a classic about family life like Vincente Minnelli's Father of the Bride (1950) or a canny portrait of cultural manners such as Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet (1993) shows how unambitious and unexciting Vardalos' crowd-pleasing project really is.

© Adrian Martin October 2002

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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