My Big Fat Greek Wedding

My_Big_Fat_Greek_Wedding_movie_poster“Don’t play with food! When I was your age, I didn’t have food!”

The Scoop: 2002 PG, directed by Joel Zwick and starring Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, and Lainie Kazan.

Tagline: Love is here to stay…so is her family.

Summary Capsule: A woman introduces the man of her dreams to her family. He survives all their best attempts to Greek him to death.

PoolMan’s Rating: Well how about that? Suddenly I DO wish I was Greek! The food looks terrific!

PoolMan’s Review:
It’s juuuuuuuuust about time someone gave Hollywood a polite tap on the shoulder, whispered in its ear, and got it to retire the Romanticom ™ genre. On the predictability scale, romantic comedies are just this side of Justin on a Saturday night. (OW, MY PANCREAS!) I mean, let’s face it, the formula’s gotten so old and stale any shmoe in the audience can figure it out. Yes, they’ll meet. Yes, they’ll have a fallout. Yes, they’ll bloody well fall in love. But wait! From out of the darkness comes a new kind of romantic comedy! Will it revolutionize the genre? Well, no. Will it make you rethink life? Nuh uh. Will it teach you the luxuries that are lamb meat and Windex? May I hear a “Hell, yes!”

By now you’ve heard of the legendary play-turned-movie that is My Big Fat Greek Wedding. At the time of this writing (Oct 2002), it’s already moved into the number 1 position on the list of most profitable independent movies (moving past The Blair Witch Project). This movie is a colossal hit. You’ve probably seen it, and even if you haven’t, I would put money on SOMEONE in your family or circle of friends having seen it.

The question is, however, is it really all that good? As a solid laugh machine, the answer is definitely a yes. Let’s put it all in perspective. Chubby Greek girl Toula spends her entire life trying to outrun her heritage, hammered into her at every waking moment by her parents. Greek girls should marry Greek men, have babies, and eat. Such is their life, apparently. No, this isn’t PoolMan’s Big Fat Racist Diatribe, this is exactly what the movie presents to you. And every character in the film, barring Toula herself, seems to buy in. Toula decides she needs more out of life than just being a baby machine, however, and as she takes small but deeply fulfilling steps towards becoming her own person, she meets the love of her life: a non-Greek man. And thus the entire family gets thrown out of whack as Toula and her new beau, Ian, quickly get engaged.

As has been aptly pointed out to me, this is not a character study. Everybody you see up on screen is a pretty flat being. Poor Toula, always repressed. Poor Gus, the besieged father who can’t get everyone to see his way. Poor Nick, the macho brother with the hidden artistic skills. And lastly, poor Ian, Mr No-Discernable-Flaws. If you expect any of these characters to change from start to finish you’re in for a disappointment (Toula gets prettier, but she stays essentially the same bewildered smartass, and Gus may accept Ian, but he still sticks to his Greek Guns). This movie is written around a play, and is meant to play deeply off of one-note characters. One gets the feeling there was a lot left on the cutting room floor.

But that’s just the bad news out of the way. The good news is you can finally take a large percentage of the old formula and throw it out the window. The love interest is simple and straightforward. No pallbearers, no mistaken identities, no cross dressing. Just two people who figure out they’re crazy about each other. They meet, fall in love, and get engaged before you’re through your $12 pop. The best news of all, however, is that this movie is just flat out hilarious. Whether you’re Greek or not, the stereotypes and running gags they play up to illustrate the Greek way of life are just a riot. From the much-discussed use of Windex as a cure all to whether lamb is acceptable vegetarian cuisine, the jokes are written to be gotten by everybody, not just Grecians. The laughs are clean, solid, and constant. Heck, when they give Ian’s father the one joke he gets to recite during the movie, it’s a terrible pun, but it’s somehow hysterical in the moment.

What really makes the whole thing work is that the themes at work here are universal, and obviously not limited to just the Greek community. Most people have an idea of what it’s like to be embarrassed by their parents and background. A lot of us are well schooled in what it takes to infiltrate a family in the name of love. And hey, who hasn’t ever run murderously after Joey Fatone after he makes you say something stupid in another language?

This is that rare movie you can take anybody to. It’s charming, it’s funny, and it’s nice and light. So light, in fact, it still confuses me how it’s the runaway smash it is, but it does a lot of things right that so many romantic comedies, and even most comedies in general, fail to do. Opah!

Justin’s Rating: I do-be-do-be-do-wap

Justin’s Review: In 1578 A.D. — a quite momentous year by most standards — the Battle of Gembloers took place, William Harvey discovered blood circulation, and Duke French van Anjou was recognized as protector of the Netherlands. Fascinating. That same year, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was released in theaters. It’s been slowly gaining popularity and box office (the lack of a film projection unit for three hundred years hindered that somewhat), but now about the entire earth’s population has seen this flick. Several times over.

Maybe I exaggerate a teensy bit, but MBFGW has had an obscenely long theater run by anyone’s standards. Seeing a rolling release that has staying power is as rare a phenomenon in the movie business as John Travolta making a watchable piece of cinema. So while I demured and thought I’d wait for video for most of 2002, it’s been such a long wait that I said, “heckwifit” and finally went to a matinee. A matinee on Thursday. A matinee that had at least half of the seats filled. Wow.

Apparently, Greek families are strange. This is news to me, as I consider just about every family and ethnicity as strange, but I’ll go with it. They’re a bit like Italians, with the voracious appetites and strong noses, but they also like to spit on people for good luck. Toula (Nia Vardalos) is Greek, but not as Greek as her entire family, who might be more comfortable talking to sympathetic doctors in padded cells. Toula’s 30 and not very attractive; of course she’s got the glasses (so they can come off!) and the frumpy shirt (likewise!) at the start, which had many viewers craning their necks looking for the pretty Hollywood starlet who was really going to be starring in this picture. Nothing doing, folks. But far be it from me to pick on how she looks, because Nia really is pretty, just not in a conventional way. Although, does anyone else think she’s just a bit cross-eyed there?

There was a Greek girl in my high school named Fani (pronounced the way you think it is) who was some sort of Amazon goddess, towering over all of us with hair and height. I was a bit in love with her, I think, but also terrified that she might pick me up in one hand and drag me off to her mountain fortress. Ah, good times.

Toula falls in love with a non-Greek guy named Ian, who is the most BORING romantic interest in the world. I mean, I really do love this film, but they failed miserably to bring any depth to his character. He was more of a straight man for everyone to bounce their wacky jokes off of, and also to be Kind and Understanding whenever Toula’s nutty family started spitting on everyone. I notice that there’s this sort of double standard in a lot of romantic comedies: in a female-centered romantic comedy, the female is always super-interesting and the guy is blander than butter; in a male-centered romantic comedy, the female is always super-interesting and the guy has a couple scenes where he ponders deep stuff, sitting in front of the ocean surf at sunset and listening to the movie’s soundtrack.

In comparison to other film genres, my standards for comedies are pretty darn simple — make me laugh! A romantic comedy? Make me laugh while making me wish I was the guy on the screen! Now, I know that we here at MRFH are prone to colorful prose when it comes to trying to convey an emotion, but here I’m being very, very literal: sitting in the audience of MBFGW, I laughed until tears were pouring down my face. I loved laughing that much… it was a terrifically funny movie. Everyone was quirky and goofy as hell, from the Windex-bearing father to the mom who plants a flower in the middle of a bunt cake, and the film has got a perfect sense of comedic pacing that keeps building joke on joke until you can’t breathe. Our theater’s audience had a rolickingly good time, with the old farts chuckling just as loud as the young farts. This is a movie to see with a group of people, if there ever was one.

In closing, I’d like to quote the immortal words of Madonna: “Beauty is where you find it, not where you bump and grind it.” Amen.

Andie’s Rating: So if somebody that (pre-makeover) mousy-looking can snag Aidan from Sex & the City, there’s hope for the rest of us! Yay.

Andie’s Review: So really Pooly and J-man have said a lot of what I think of MBFGW, so I will try to keep this short and sweet so as not to make you ennui. (That means “to feel bored.” I had to look it up today because it was a clue for the NY Times crossword puzzle). I rented this movie the other night and instantly fell head-over-heels in love with Nia Vardalos. This girl is fabulous! She’s cute and funny and apparently she wrote MBFGW, which is impressive. I hope we see her do more stuff because she has the potential to blossom into a really great actress. I particularly liked the juxtaposition of her pride/love for her family and her utter embarrassment at what freaks they are, a predicament to which I’m sure we all can relate.

I agree with Justin, there was not a lot of fleshing out of characters. However, some of them were fantastic. I particularly liked Toula’s mother and aunt. What a couple of characters! I thought Andrea Martin as the aunt was especially a stand-out. (What else would you expect from somebody named Andrea? Huh? That’s what I thought.) I about wet myself when she started telling Aidan’s parents (yes, I know his character is Ian and his real name is John, but he is AIDAN from Sex & the City and that’s all there is to it. In my world, Chris Noth will forever be known as Mr. Big. Deal with it.)

Anyway, so Aunt Voula starts telling Aidan’s parents about her lump that turned out to be her twin? Oh great googly-moogly, I almost peed my pants. You really can’t go wrong with this movie, it is so great. I have gotten so tired of the relentless string of horrible romantic comedies that have come out lately that I was pleasantly surprised at how fresh and cute this one was. The whole movie is just a reel of comedic highlights and the first meeting scene and proposal scene are beautiful romantic highlights. I highly recommend this one. Sweet Home Alabama, Two Weeks Notice, Maid in Manhatten and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days it is not……

Fortunately.

heather

Heather’s Rating: It’s worth its weight in Windex.

Heather’s Review: My first DVD rental of 2009 was a movie I never imagined I would watch. Anyone who knows my movie tastes at all knows that I like romantic movies the way one might like a Novocain-free root canal. The serious ones are ALWAYS depressing, the whole genre systematically murdering off one or both of the main love interests and sending the audience into a deep depression unrivaled in their day to day lives (at least until their next trip to the gas station). The lighthearted ones are just as predictable as the former, but instead of slow, agonizing deaths the audience must endure slow, agonizing “misunderstandings” wrought from one of the characters holding something back about themselves that their lover later finds out. Some deus ex machina happens, and the whole thing ends in birds singing, puppies romping, and little heart shaped clouds forming above the couple as they merrily traipse along into the sunset, hand in hand, leaving a candy coated trail behind them

This is all why I had successfully avoided this movie like the plague since its release almost 7 years ago. But I made a deal with my sisters and I wasn’t going to back out. I recently got my sisters to check out our site. So far all I’ve done are cult movies, which isn’t their thing (I did point out we do plenty of “normal” movies here, too). So in an effort to involve them and get them more interested I said “Hey, why don’t you two choose the movies I review this month? Pick one each.” I cringed inside when one of the sisters yelled “My Big Fat Greek Wedding!”. A dark cloud settled over my head and I trudged to the movie store looking like a real-life Eeyore. In the aisle I picked up the DVD case the way one might handle a newspaper fresh with spider guts and on its way to the trash can after having disposed of yet another intruder mincing across the bathroom wall.

My horror increased as I saw Joey “N*Sync” Fatone’s Howdy Doody face staring at me from the cover. Once home I dropped the DVD into my player and dragged myself from the TV to the bed, shoulders slumped in defeat and wondering what I had gotten myself into.

And all I can say about that is “Thanks, sis.” This film took the Romantic Movie Template and dumped tzatziki all over it. I was interested, I laughed, and my thoughts were provoked. In short, I was entertained.

Toula Portokalos, our heroine, is a frumpy-looking, unhappy maiden of Greek descent. To paraphrase her words “Nice Greek girls marry Greek men, have Greek babies, and make Greek food.” Toula is at the ripe old age of thirty (practically an old maid to her family) and working in the family restaurant for her loving, but bossy and suffocating, kinfolk. Fed up with it all she goes off to college and finds a job she’s happy with. Then follows the Transformation Montage where she starts wearing makeup and fixes her hair and gets nice clothes, but if you pay attention you’ll see it’s not the same setup as in other romantic movies. This is a woman who starts to be happy with herself for the first time because she’s finally doing what she wants in life. She becomes happy inside and that in turn makes her care about what she looks like outside. At her new job she is noticed by a Fabio-esque, wonderful guy named Ian Miller. He doesn’t fit in with his family either and finds Toula so full of life and intriguing that he just has to meet her. In spite of the problems that they know they’ll run into with their families they become completely enamored with each other anyway. Then comes the time to meet the parents.

It’s awkward on both sides, but it’s real. This was not a huge dramatic point in the movie where the father threatens to disown Toula, or Ian’s White Suburban Parents acted like he was dating some heathen that would be an embarrassment to all of their friends at the country club. What ensued was a great story that made a lot of jabs and good points about what happens when a marriage brings two cultures together. What is really going to throw the romantic comedy poo-pooers for a loop is that this movie is just so real and honest. Nothings is melodramatic, Toula and Ian’s relationship isn’t the end of the world for their families, and there are many beautiful details about the family dynamic. Also none of that “misunderstanding” crap, and no one dies. It’s a just a good representation of two real, very different, families brought together when their kids get married.

Not being Greek myself (I know, hard to believe. You’d never know by looking at me) and having no immersion in Greek culture, I wasn’t sure while watching it just how believable the craziness of Toula’s family was. I found out through the commentary that most of that stuff was a play by play from the life of Nia Vardalos (the writer and star). The fact that someone wrote and starred in a romantic movie about their life is usually cause for me to make a crucifix with my fingers and back away, hissing. In this case, it made the movie so much more hilarious (her father really did use Windex as a cure-all) and Nia’s narration was wonderful (I think she should take up voice acting).

Everyone’s acting was great. Every relationship portrayed in this movie was done well. Joey Fatone’s presence was short and (surprisingly) sweet. So grab a baklava and be ready to be regaled with stories of Aunt Voula’s “twin”.

This is my Windex bottle. There are many like it but this one is mine.

This is my Windex bottle. There are many like it but this one is mine.

Intermission!

  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding was written as a one woman play by the movie’s star, Nia Vardalos. My understanding (and write us if we’re wrong!) is that Rita Wilson (wife of Tom Hanks, He of the Magic Bow Tie) saw the play and offered to help Vardalos get the screenplay made. Wilson would later go to bat on Vardalos’ behalf to insist that that she retain her role as the put-upon Toula, instead of hiring a younger, prettier actress. Toula’s family (except for the principal actors) is Vardalos’ real-life family.
  • Windex: it’ll cure what ails ya! Keep an eye out, there’s a bottle in nearly every scene.
  • AAAAH! An *NSYNC boy! Thankfully, he doesn’t make you break out in hives.
  • If all churches had kiddie pools, I might go more often.
  • Plastic couch covers: the evil scourge lives!
  • Ouzo is goooooooood stuff.
  • Guys, we all know what Ian’s thinking in the car, now don’t we?
  • Maria’s mother sneaking through the yard is damn near priceless
  • Everything that can be decorated in blue and white IS.
  • Spitting is fun!
  • Is it just me, or does Ian look like the nicest guy in the film, and the scummiest greaseball in all the print ads?
  • That’s the best Drunk Cam I’ve ever seen.
  • Vegetarians can eat lamb.
  • Bloodthirsty Turks!
  • Guys: In the makeout montage pay CLOSE attention (as if you weren’t, anyway). When making out with Toula, Ian is holding her head. Seriously, guys. That’s all we want. Caress our noggins. It’s a win every time.

Groovy Quotes

Toula: [pointing to Ian’s bruised nose] What happened? Biker fight? Nose job? What?
Ian: Uh…yeah.
Toula: No, really.
Ian: You don’t want to know.
Toula: Oh I don’t know. If I had survived an old lady ass-kicking I would want to brag about it.

Maria: Nicko! Don’t play with food! When I was your age, I didn’t have food!

Gus: [to Ian, in Greek] When my people were developing philosophy, your people were still swinging from trees.
Toula: He likes you!

[upon learning Ian is a vegetarian]
Aunt Voula: What do you mean, you don’t eat no meat? … That’s okay. I make lamb.

Maria: Toula, On my wedding night, my mother, she said to me, “Greek women, we may be lambs in the kitchen, but we are tigers in the bedroom.”
Toula: Okay, ew! Please let that be the end of your story.

Toula: When I was growing up, I knew I was different. The other girls were blonde and delicate, and I was a swarthy six-year-old with sideburns.

Toula: I had to go to Greek school, where I sat in a room translating, “If Nick has one goat and Maria has nine, how soon will they marry?”

Gus: There are two kinds of people – Greeks, and everyone else who wish they was Greek.

Maria: The men may be the head of the house but the women are the neck and they can turn the head anyway they want.

Angelo: Hey Ian, we’re gonna kill ya! Opah!

Nick: Ian, if you’re going to be in this family, I get you some ear plugs, because the Portokalos women, if they are not nagging somebody, they die.

Aunt Voula: You family now, so I tell you a story. All my life…I have this lump on the back of my neck. When I reach the menopause, the lump get bigger. I go to the doctor, and he performs a…bo-bobopsy. And inside the lump, he finds teeth, and a spinal column. The lump…it was my twin.

Nikki: Well, well…If it isn’t Mr. Pottery Class himself.

[During Ian’s baptism.]
Toula: Any second now he’s gonna look at me and say, “You’re so not worth this.”

Ian’s Mom: How are we supposed to know what’s going on?
Ian’s Dad: It’s all Greek to me.

Gus Portokalos: Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek.

[upon receiving a bundt cake from Mrs. Miller]
Maria Portokalos: It’s a cake! I know! Thank you! Thank you very, very much.
[whispering to Aunt Freida]
There’s a hole in this cake!

Gus: Put some Windex.

[Toula’s father, Gus, during his wedding speech] You know, the root of the word Miller is a Greek word. Miller come from the Greek word “milo,” which is mean “apple,” so there you go. As many of you know, our name, Portokalos, is come from the Greek word “portokali,” which mean “orange.” So, okay? Here tonight, we have, ah, apple and orange. We all different, but in the end, we all fruit.

[When Ian ask Toula what her family does for Christmas] Toula: So, what happens is my dad and uncles, they fight over who gets to eat the lamb brain. And then my aunt Voula forks the eyeball and chases me around with it, try to get me to eat it, ’cause it’s gonna make me smart. So, you have two cousins, I have 27 first cousins. Just 27 first cousins alone! And my whole family is big and loud. And everybody is in each other’s lives and business. All the time! Like, you never just have a minute alone, just to think, ‘Cause we’re always together, just eating, eating, eating! The only other people we know are Greeks, ’cause Greeks marry Greeks to breed more Greeks, to be loud breeding Greek eaters.

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