My Big Fat Greek Wedding
2002, PG, 95 min. Directed by Joel Zwick. Starring Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Lainie Kazan, Michael Constantine, Andrea Martin, Joey Fatone.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 7, 2002
How can you not love a film that revolves around a dingy Greek restaurant called “Dancing Zorba's?” Impossible, I know, but that's only one tiny delicious flake on the baklava of demented familial cheer that is My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The title tells it all, but with the few ethnic nips and tucks this could just have easily been called My Big Fat Jewish/Italian/Irish Wedding; it's not so much the ethnicity that's the running joke here (although that is key to the film's charm -- I caught a screening in an audience with a high percentage of Greek-Americans in it and the howls of delight and recognition were unmistakable) but the notion of the modern “Amercian” nuclear family caught up in the melting pot of this country, tradition versus the new, and finally finding one's place in the world. Honestly, this is one of the purest family comedies to come around in ages, with a heart as big as the gyros at Ted's Greek Corner used to be (and boy do we miss 'em) and an oversized sense of the intricacies of ethnicity that rivals Woody Allen's frequent gags at the expense of his extended Jewish clan. Vardalos (a member of Chicago's Second City improv group who also scripted the film) plays Toula, a shy, mousy, bespectacled woman who works at her family's Greek restaurant and is, at 30, still unmarried, a cause of constant despair and concern to her rabidly Grecian father (Constantine) and family, who only want her to follow in the footsteps of all good Greek girls and settle down with a nice Greek boy, have bushels of little Greek babies, and feed everyone in sight. (“We're supposed to be loud, breeding, Greek eaters,” she wryly observes.) When she spies handsome Wasp hunk Ian (Corbett of Northern Exposure and Sex and the City) and enrolls in a community college computing course, her single life takes one of those hairpin turns that only seems to happen in the movies (until it happens to you in real life, that is) and the mismatched couple fall head-over-spanakopita in love. But what to do with daddy? That's Vardalos' story in a nutshell, but there's so much more to My Big Fat Greek Wedding that it bears noting that the overly familiar set-up is merely the fulcrum on which the rest of this delightful love story rests. (And usually I try to steer clear of worlds like “delightful” -- I mean, really now -- but this time it fits the subject to a “T.”) Vardalos' script is finely nuanced; it's not all Greco-American clichés, although there are plenty of those in evidence. Studded with absolutely terrific performances that carry the ring and sting of truth as much as the pack of a deft comedic wallop (Constantine and Second City alum Martin as Toula's meddling aunt are particularly well-drawn), this is that rarest of films -- the ensemble piece that hardly ever misfires. The story has some of the bizarro romantic humor of Norman Jewison's Moonstruck but it also has some of the funniest physical comedy in recent memory -- the scene in which Ian and Toula finally meet announces itself with a one-off bit of slapstick that by all rights shouldn't merit much attention at all. Instead, it's one of the biggest laughs in a film that's a charming and funny as anything I've seen in too, too long. With a sweet romantic heart as large as Toula's sprawling Greek family, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is not only the best date movie of the year, it's also a -- dare I say it twice -- delightfully charming -- and totally American, I might add -- slice of comedic bliss.