I well remember My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a surprise box-office smash back in 2002. A rowdy, none-too-subtle immigrant comedy about a tight-knit (to put it mildly) family of Greek ancestry in suburban Chicago, it starred Nia Vardalos (who also wrote its script), as the obedient 30-year-old daughter who has remained single – then meets Ian, a non-Greek man, and agrees to marry him, to the dismay of her insular clan. It was all agreeable, knockabout fun. A lot of people liked it.
And now they have the chance to like it all over again. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 re-introduces all the major characters from the first film, plus a sprinkling of new ones. Toula (Vardalos) is happily wed to her ‘Anglo’ spouse (John Corbett), though the various demands of her huge family means they don’t spend enough time together. They have a 17-year-old daughter, Paris (played by the delicate young beauty Elena Kampouris), who is already being sized up for marriage to some Greek boy (any Greek boy) by her overbearing grandfather Gus (Michael Constantine, now 88). But Paris has had it with the whole Greek thing, and wants to go to college, not locally in Chicago, but away from her clan in (gasp!) New York.
So from that premise, how do you fashion another story along the lines of the original hit, climaxing in a joyous wedding? Through a painful contrivance, as it happens: it turns out grandfather Gus never really got married to his wife Maria (Lainie Kazan) back in Greece half a century back; the priest forgot to sign the wedding forms. So they decide to get married again – properly this time.
On paper, then, this looks a dubious, calculated proposition. Yet I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy most of MBFW2 – and even if its bawdy humour is raucous and borderline stereotypical, it’s played with such panache that you finally just giggle and give in. Within the parameters of this broad comedy, the performances are all spot-on; there isn’t an actor here who misses a beat. It’s all more skilful than the cast make it look.
In dramatic terms, it’s Vardalos who does most of the heavy lifting, but others shine too; Lainie Kazan as the forthright attention-magnet Maria; Andrea Martin as the opinionated Aunt Voula. This is a strident family, so there are several ‘big’ performances here; all John Corbett as outsider Ian needs to do is to look on and smile genially.
The film will play most strongly to women; its female characters tend to congregate in restaurants or hairdressing salons to gossip and to plot. And it targets an older constituency just as clearly; there’s an extended scene in which old Gus struggles with a computer mouse and tries to confirm from an ancestry website that he’s directly descended from Alexander the Great – the most Greek of all Greeks.
Finally, it will have a genuine appeal for anyone from an immigrant family – whether they be Irish, Italian or Punjabi – because it hints at a universal experience for people separated from distant roots and relatives.
British director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned) marshals proceedings deftly, and it all works within its limitations. MBFW2 won’t win any prizes for breaking new ground – but it’s cheerful, good-hearted and well-intentioned. There’s room for movies with such modest virtues.
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