"Wedding’ swells with humor, love
Screenwriter and actress Nia Vardalos has herself to thank for a big, overstuffed, fat, funny, Greek wedding surprise.
Less skillful hands probably would push “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” farther over the top and create something less funny. As it is, the screenwriter and star toes almost perfectly the delicate line that divides caricature from stereotype.
The movie’s title and trailer suggest most of the 94-minute running time follows Greek Chicago resident Toula Portokalos (Vardalos) through her marriage to Ian Miller (actor John Corbett, whom some might remember as “Northern Exposure” radio deejay Chris in the Morning). But there’s a lot more going than that, as Vardalos reveals the film’s roots – she envisioned it as a one-woman stage show. Viewers get to know Toula and her large, aggressively Greek family very well beforehand. With the cat thus out of the bag, viewers are basically dealing with “Meet the Parents” up to its gills in ouzo: Sure, everybody’s family is a little strange, but when’s the last time you and your 27 cousins barbecued a small mammal in the front yard?
But “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” transcends the normal will-they-or-won’t-they dramatics of the romance genre as Vardalos creates a funny, loving portrait of her family, starting with mom Maria (Lainie Kazan), the brains of the operation and her Windex-wielding dad, Gus (Michael Constantine), who’s convinced he’s the one with the smarts. There’s even time for her brother, the leader of a parade of Nicks in the Portokalos clan and his friend Angelo, a big, fat, suddenly Greek Joey Fatone of ‘NSync.
Some reviewers have levied the – accurate – charge that “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” relies on stereotyping for its humor. While it’s true – even more of Miller’s WASPy, terminally bland parents than the outlandish Portokaloses – it’s worth examining those stereotypes. How many stereotypes does the average person in Summit County, where you can’t find a Greek restaurant, even know about that nationality?
But Vardalos finds a lot that’s really funny in her fictional family, some of it laugh-out-loud good and most of it utterly believable. On top of that, she turns in a great performance as Toula – naive enough to keep the plot believable, but savvy enough to roll her eyes at her Old World parents. (On her wedding night, after her mom tells her Greek women are lambs in the kitchen but tigers in the bedroom, she begs, “Please let be the end of your speech?”)
I missed “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding” when it premiered, but I heard plenty about it. My mom, grandma and five aunts saw it the day before my cousin’s big, fat wedding shower.
The cousin I speak of is one of 23 cousins, just four shy of Toula’s 27. Anyone with a large, loud or ethnic family will howl at Toula’s journey to her big, fat Greek wedding. My family fits into all three categories – my dad had 65 first cousins, my mom was a first-generation American – so I was nearly rolling in the aisles of the Speakeasy Movie Theatre.
Though some critics say the movie pollutes the screen with ethnic stereotypes, I’m here to tell you I’ve seen these things up close and personal. There are blocks in my (and Toula’s) hometown, Chicago, where huge, white statues of Greek gods and goddesses tower over tiny, ranch-style houses.
Inside, thick, clear plastic protects beautiful furniture from stains and wear, thus, the couch purchased in the 1950s or 1960s remains brand-spanking new in 2002. I know firsthand – my grandma was the plastic queen, though lately, she’s taken to covering furniture with old bedspreads, topped with raggy towels on the arm- and headrests.
(Though Toula’s father swears by it, I can’t tell you anything about the power of Windex to cure all ailments, but it’s pretty good on windows.)
The beauty of “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding” is not only Toula’s transformation from a swarthy old maid with sideburns to an independent, intelligent young woman, but also the deeper commentary on the power of love.
The movie swells with hysterical lines and visual gags (including 10 bridesmaids dressed in fluffy turquoise dresses and a bride who refers to herself as “Snow Beast”), while at the same time delivering a quaint love story that answers Romeo and Juliet’s dilemma.
Long after the laughter dies and the credits role, the strength of familial and romantic love remains. Though some might argue Ian Miller was whipped, he gains a wild world, rich in tradition, by marrying Toula. When Toula stepps out of her family’s expectation she marry a Greek man, she gains her independence without abandoning her family.
In the end, “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding” is a marriage of personal independence to family loyalty. The humor is just the exquisite icing on the five-layer-high, plastic-staircase-and-champagne-fountain-laden cake.
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