The humor in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” boils down to this: Aren’t Greek people funny? Fortunately, the answer is yes, and this is one of the funniest, most joyous movies to come along since the Greeks invented comedy.
It was written by Nia Vardalos, who also stars as Toula Portokalos, an unattractive second-generation Greek girl whose destiny is to marry a Greek man and make Greek babies. Her parents, Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan), have this hope for her; she, however, lacks self-confidence. She works at the family restaurant (Dancing Zorba’s) and has dreams of attending college, but old-fashioned Greek Dad is generally opposed to educating women.
She goes for it, though, and learns some makeup tips and visits a hairstylist. She also meets an English-teacher dreamboat named Ian Miller (John Corbett), who adores her. They date. They fall in love. But how far can it go, with him being a non-Greek?
With this sort of movie, you know the plot almost as soon as it begins. Toula’s parents — especially Dad — will object to the relationship, and object even more to the marriage, and then they will get over it and embrace Ian. Some things turn out a lot messier in real life, but in the sunny world of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” conflicts are handled with yelling, emotion and love. And then everybody eats and dances. The movie lives in a world that makes the rest of us envious.
The performances are dazzling, from Vardalos as the self-deprecating Toula, to Corbett’s romantic Ian, to Louis Mandylor as Toula’s sweet younger brother, to Andrea Martin as a sharp, nosy aunt. (“I could snap you like chicken!” she yells in regards to Toula’s perceived thinness.)
And let’s not overlook Kazan and Constantine as Toula’s parents, Gia Carides as her trashy cousin, and Fiona Reid and Bruce Gray as Ian’s ultra-white, thoroughly confused parents. The cast is huge — Greek families are huge — and there is character and humor on every face.
It might be accurate to say many of the characters are stereotypes, but it is fair to point out that stereotypical people exist in real life, too. (That’s how we GET stereotypes.) I don’t see the lack of depth in Toula’s parents, for example, as a flaw in the writing. I see those characters as being real people who happen to be of the “what you see is what you get” variety. Not everyone has complicated motives for their actions. Everything Gus Portokalos does everything out of love for his family, and out of tradition. (Well, he also believes Windex can cure any physical ailment. I don’t know where THAT comes from.)
There is a moment at the wedding when, for me, the movie passes the level of Very Funny Comedy and becomes a Great Film. As Toula walks down the aisle, we notice the groom’s side of the church has five or six people in it, while the bride’s side has dozens. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents — everyone is there for Toula’s special day. They’re all there for family dinners and other events, too, special or not. They’re a huge, loud, obnoxious, wonderful family that lives life with passion and enthusiasm. Anyone who comes from a large family will tell you that it’s reassuring to be surrounded by so many people who love you, no matter how crazy they are. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” doesn’t just celebrate the ideas of family, tradition and love; it worships them.
A (; )
In 2012, I reconsidered this movie for my Re-Views column at Film.com.