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With: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Lainie Kazan, Michael Constantine, Andrea Martin, Louis Mandylor, Gerry Mendicino, Gia Carides, Joey Fatone, Ian Gomez, Jayne Eastwood, Bruce Gray, Fiona Reid
Written by: Nia Vardalos
Directed by: Joel Zwick
MPAA Rating: PG for sensuality and language
Running Time: 95
Date: 02/22/2002

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It uses an old-time formula, it's not terribly original and it's rather messy -- but you just have to love the big, dumb, happy movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This story has paraded across the big screen dozens of times, most recently in Kissing Jessica Stein and the upcoming American Chai. Basically, a young, headstrong member of an even more headstrong family falls in love with someone of whom the family won't approve, taking us over a bunch of predictable hurdles until they find true love. Combine that with the "makeover movie" -- in which someone usually asks the question, "Do you really need to wear those glasses?" -- and you have My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Nia Vardalos, from Chicago's legendary "Second City" improv comedy troupe, provides the screenplay and stars as Toula, a frumpy girl with straggly, matted hair and big glasses who just wants to fit in with the blond Barbies of the world. But she was born Greek. Toula informs us that Greek girls have just three duties in life: marry Greek boys, have Greek babies and feed everyone. "We're just loud, breeding Greek eaters!" she exclaims. At age 30, she's working in her family's Chicago restaurant ("Dancing Zorba's") and has nowhere to go in life. Her staunchly Greek-centric father (Michael Constantine) worries that at this rate she'll never marry. Toula begins taking some college classes, puts on some makeup, exchanges the glasses for contacts and gets a job in her aunt's travel agency. With her newfound confidence, she meets Ian (John Corbett, from TV's "Northern Exposure" and "Sex in the City"), and it's love at first sight. The only trouble? Ian is not at all Greek.

The usual trial-by-fire follows. Toula's cousins jokingly threaten Ian's life (or are they serious?), and her mother (Lainie Kazan) makes him food whether he's hungry or not. And no one seems to understand that he's a vegetarian; trying to accomodate, they offer to make him lamb. It gets worse when Ian's poor, straight-laced, white-bread parents enter the fray. "They're dry toast," Toula's father complains. Toula's mother comes through with a terrific line that saves the day. When Toula protests her father's claim that he is the head of the house and his decision is final, her mother counters with "the man is the head but the woman is the neck -- she can make the head turn any way she wants."

I don't know if it's because I once went to a Greek wedding (where I first discovered baklava) or because my own marriage united two enormously different cultural families, but I got a huge kick out of this movie. Still, I wish it had gone a little farther with some of its ideas -- perhaps establish little relationships between Ian and the cousins, or Toula and Ian's parents. I also would have appreciated if the film had fought just a little bit to break out of its familiar pattern, the way Kissing Jessica Stein did with its strong characters and sheer wit. Director Joel Zwick -- and, indeed, most of the actors -- has a strong TV background, and much of the film has the careless, rushed feel of your average sitcom. Surprisingly, Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson produced, focusing their energies on a fun comedy rather than their usual heavy-duty project seemingly designed to help save the world. I expect My Big Fat Greek Wedding will be a smash word-of-mouth hit among Greek families and the people who love them. But certain jokes will leave mainstream audiences confused. Do Greek fathers really believe in the healing power of Windex?

Best Buy Co, Inc.