My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Posted on March 24, 2016 at 5:46 pm

The original “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was a charming surprise, a fresh, honest story about a young woman trying to find a way to be true to herself despite her loving but overwhelmingly intrusive Greek-American family. This 15-years-later sequel is an overstuffed, undercooked cash grab, operating at the low level of a basic cable sit-com with a juiced-up laugh track. There’s a big difference between finding it funny when a family has what therapists call boundary issues and bombarding the audience with overshares. Or, as Toula tells us just to make sure we understand, “We see no difference between hugging and suffocation.”

Copyright Universal 2016
Copyright Universal 2016

The original was an exaggerated but affectionate portrayal of family dynamics that are familiar to anyone who struggled to find a distinctive individual direction despite family expectations to the contrary, which is pretty much everyone. The sequel is grotesque caricature, repeating and coarsening the humor of the first one, with repeated clunky set-ups for each of its obvious twists. The first one was a sleeper made for a shoestring that became one of the highest-profit films of all time, released in the same month as a big-budget special effects flop, “Pluto Nash,” with a mirror image record-breaking balance sheet — it lost almost as much as “Big Fat Greek Wedding” made. This sequel won’t set any records in either direction. It has some appealing characters and mild humor. But it devalues the franchise so badly that it is retroactive, diluting any remaining affection for the first one.

The couple who had the titular nuptials in the 2002 film were Toula (screenwriter Nia Vardalos), the daughter of Greek-American restaurant owners who dreamed of working with computers as a travel agent, and Ian (John Corbett), a WASP-y vegetarian teacher. At the engagement party, her parents brought a battalion of cousins named Nicky. His parents brought a bundt cake. An adorable culture clash! Is this a great country or what!

Fifteen years later, Toula, Ian, and their 17-year-old daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris, lovely even in ghoulish makeup) live next door to her parents, Gus (Michael Constantine), who still believes that the Greeks invented everything and Windex can cure anything, and Maria (Lainie Kazan), who still lets him think he runs everything. Toula tries hard to make everyone happy as she is sandwiched between a daughter who needs her less than she wants her to and parents who need her more than she wants them to. “Just when my daughter doesn’t want me around anymore, my parents need me more than ever.”

All the relatives live right nearby and everyone is up in each other’s business all the time and Hollywood Greek-Americans John Stamos and Rita Wilson, who produced the film, show up for an obvious gag and can the Stamos character, a TV newscaster really have a tagline involving shooting a finger-gun?

Toula’s big fat Greek family is supposed to be loveable, but they are just shrill and annoying. Either Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin) is going into excruciating detail on her sex life or her medical quirks or Gus is trying to find a nice Greek boyfriend for Paris to marry so she can have lots of Greek babies. Ian is now the high school principal and Tula is back where we first met her, working in her parents’ restaurant and even has to don her old glasses. They want Paris to stay near them in Chicago when she goes to college. Like Toula in the first film, Paris wants more independence. Like Toula’s parents in the first film, Toula and Ian do not want to let her go. Meanwhile, their focus on the family has led Toula and Ian to lose touch with one another. So, hey, why not another makeover for Toula?

And this is a Big Fat Greek Wedding film, so there must be another wedding. It turns out that Gus and Maria’s marriage license from half a century ago in Greece was never signed. So, Gus has to persuade Maria to marry him all over again and that means giving her the wedding of her dreams. Opa!

It is filled with the kind of stereotyping that would elicit howls of protest from anti-defamation groups if not made by Greeks themselves. That doesn’t prevent the ugly stereotyping of non-Greeks, all portrayed as thin-blooded and snobbish, except for Ian and the real-life Ian, the actor husband of Vardalos, as a kind-hearted cop who married into the family. A revelation about a family member who is gay could have led to some interesting moments, given the family’s very narrow concepts of masculinity, but it is too busy with jokes about how gross an old man’s nudity is. Even Gus would agree that this is beyond the powers of Windex.

Parents should know that this movie has some crude humor, sexual references, and a non-explicit situation. There is some scuffling, a non-serious medical emergency, social drinking, and tipsiness.

Family discussion: Ask family members about how they handled parent-child conflicts about independence — and weddings. Why was it important for Maria that Gus propose to her?

If you like this, try: the first film and another film from Vardalos, “Connie and Carla”

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Comedy Family Issues Romance Series/Sequel

Trailer: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Posted on November 16, 2015 at 8:00 am

The adorable “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” is one of the most successful movies of all time, making more than $240 million (and being made for about $5 million by Tom Hanks’ Playtone Films). The endearing Cinderella story was written by Nia Vardalos, who starred as Tula, the daughter of a loving but raucous Greek family, who falls in love with Ian (John Corbett).

This trailer gives us a glimpse of what happened after the wedding. It will be in theaters next spring.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

My Life in Ruins

Posted on October 6, 2009 at 8:45 am

Everything that made the adorable “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” so winning is missing from this tired and formulaic sitcom of a movie about an American tour guide in Greece. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” with writer/star Nia Vardalos, was filled with charm, heart, originality, and vivid detail. Now Vardalos stars — but did not write — “My Life in Ruins.” It is as tired as its title, a drawn-out sitcom of a movie that tries to charm us with thin jokes about ignorant tourists who travel around the world but don’t want to see anything.

Vardalos plays Georgia, an American of Greek heritage who went to Greece to teach but lost her job and is now stuck working for a small company with two tour buses. The other guide gets the one with the good air conditioning and the happy, easy-going customers. Georgia gets the bad bus, the bad hotels, and the cranky tourists. Plus the guy who is always making corny jokes (Richard Dreyfuss) — not that they are any better than the rest of the jokes in the movie — and some Australians who appear to be cheerful but whom no one can understand. Georgia sees this as a way to teach the visitors about the glory and history of Greece, to have them “bask in history” and “to be a part of the birth of civilization.” But they think they are on vacation and what she has in mind feels too much like work. All they want to do is eat ice cream and buy souvenirs.

And the new tour bus driver has a name that sounds like a bad word and a huge fuzzy beard. You think she’ll be surprised when she finds out that he speaks English and understands what she’s been saying? You’re right! You think it will be funny when it happens? You’re wrong. You think the tour bus driver will shave and turn out to be handsome so that Georgia can recover her “kefi” (Greek for mojo)? You’re right! You think it will make the movie entertaining? You’re wrong!

Vardalos looks uncomfortably skinny and as though she knows she could have written a better script. “Saturday Night Live’s” Rachel Dratch is wasted as the kind of tourist who is always looking for the Hard Rock Cafe or an international branch of Curves. And then there is the warring couple with the mopey teenage daughter who — here’s a surprise — won’t take the earbuds out of her ears. The stereotypes are not awful because they are predictable. After all, they become stereotypes because they happen so often. They are awful because they are so thin and superficial and phony. It is ironic that while Georgia is whining about how tourists do not appreciate the grandeur and history of the ancient ruins, the movie itself feels as though it is the cinematic equivalent of a chintzy souvenir. It is a shame to spoil the beautiful scenery with these vaudeville-era jokes. Georgia may find her kefi in this film, but the script never does.

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Comedy Romance

Connie and Carla

Posted on May 18, 2009 at 8:00 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual humor and drug references
Profanity: Some strong language and double entendres
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters drink to respond to stress, scenes in bar
Violence/ Scariness: Character killed, mostly comic violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2004
Date Released to DVD: 2005 ASIN: B00005JN1K

Nia Vardalos captivated audiences with the unstoppably successful My Big Fat Greek Wedding and her next film opens up in a few weeks. So it is a good time to take a look at her last film, which never got the audience it deserved. It is very entertaining, if less broadly appealing than her blockbuster debut. What made her first film a hit was its fresh and unassuming presentation of a universal theme — families drive everyone a little crazy. This one is a more traditional farce with the always-reliable gender-switching theme. It worked for Shakespeare and it worked for “Charlie’s Aunt,” “Some Like it Hot,” and “Tootsie,” and if this movie doesn’t hit that level, it avoids the mistakes of flops like “Sorority Boys” and “Juwanna Mann.”

Vardalos and Toni Collette (“The Sixth Sense” and “Muriel’s Wedding”) play best friends who dream of starring in dinner theater productions of Broadway shows. Instead, they are waitresses at an O’Hare airport restaurant who get to belt out tunes to stranded travellers in between taking orders. One night bad guys shoot their boss over a drug deal and, when they see Connie and Carla watching, they try to kill them, too. So Connie and Carla have got fo find a place to hide. Cue “Born to be Wild” and point the station wagon to Los Angeles.

And then before you can say “Queer Eye on the Girls from the Heartland,” Connie and Carla disguise themselves as drag queens and get a job performing in a nightclub. And they are wildly successful because they finally found an audience that appreciates Broadway show tunes! Connie starts to fall for the handsome brother (David Duchovney) of one of the drag queens, Carla misses her boyfriend, and those bad guys are still trying to find them….but these are girls who know how to deliver a happy ending.

This is a bright and colorful door-slamming farce directed by Michael Lembeck, whose experience with “Friends” keeps the pace so brisk that there isn’t much time to notice the parts that don’t work. The plot is nothing new — Lucy and Ethel would be right at home — but there are some good lines given maximum punch by a strong cast.

Duchovney’s low-key charm works well in the midst of all of the over-the-top emoting, but it is a shame that the plot requires him to be so squeamish about his brother’s lifestyle. The movie’s biggest weakness is its attempt to be just too, too good to the last drop, sprinkling self-esteem over every person who comes on screen like, well, fairy dust. This movie is going to make sure you get the message. Like the two main characters, it throws everything at you it can think of, from shameless power ballads to a real old-time movie star. The song and dance routines really are a hoot, delivered with such affectionate sincerity that I dare you not to be entertained. Yet what it does best is what it does most quietly, with some understated humor about how everyone, even a hitman for the mob, is just one showtune away from discovering the transcendent power of dinner theater.

Parents should know that many of the characters in this movie are drag queens, although as is typical in movies of this kind, they are portrayed as non-sexual. Parents should also know that characters use some strong language and there are some double entrendre sexual references and crude jokes involving tampons and a “sit on my face” insult. Characters respond to a stressful situation by deciding to get drunk and much of the action takes place in a bar. A character is a drug dealer and the response to accidental use of cocaine is portrayed as humorous. A character is a hitman and there is one murder (off camera). There are fights, mostly comic. A strength of the movie is that prejudice against drag queens and anyone who is different is an important theme.

Many families may find this movie a good starting point for discussions of how we know who we are and how we treat those who are different. They might want to talk about why it is easier for the drag queens to feel good about the way they look than it is for the women that Connie and Carla see.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy some of the other classic cross-dressing comedies including Tootsie and Some Like It Hot and drag queen comedies like The Birdcage, Victor/Victoria, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Outrageous!, and To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar (all with some mature material).

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Romance
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