To sneak preview a later life lesson in this review, you could trade the Greek demographic of the central Portokalos family in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” with any other American immigrant nationality and get much of the same effect. Nearly all people are being both defined by and embarrassed by their family. Whether you’re Greek or not, you will watch both the original and the sequel and poke fun at the similarities and differences. Such is an easy draw, but that charm has limits in a been-there-done-that sequel.
It’s been 14 years since producer Tom Hanks backed the original brainchild of actress/writer Nia Vardalos turned a $5 million budget into a $368 million runaway box office smash. The sequel returns us to Chicago and catches us up with the whole clan. Toula Portokalos-Miller (Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) are still married and split the roles as smothering (her) and doting (him) parents to their only child, Paris (Elena Kampouris), a headstrong and anxious high school senior. She is quickly approaching the decision point of where to go to college in the fall.
The tough economic times of the last decade have closed Toula’s travel agency. That downsizing has put her right back where she started, working behind the counter of Dancing Zorba’s, the long-standing family business diner owned and operated by her ever-pushy parents, Gus and Maria (Michael Constantine and Lainie Kazan). With Toula married, Gus and Maria have now shifted their classic “go get married and have Greek babies” pressure to their “meh” granddaughter Paris, much to her teen-aged Millennial mortification.
The overarching conflict assigned to this sequel that requires the humor from wild family interaction and overcompensating “fixing” is the discovery that Gus and Maria’s original wedding certificate is invalid, leading to laughs of them living in sin. A new wedding has to be orchestrated. With pleasant familiarity, the elders, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, and all of the other usual suspects of the extended family dive into action. Those encounters bring out the hijinks and gags involving old favorites like Andrea Martin’s Aunt Vuola (still stealing the best lines), Gia Carides’s cousin Nikki, and Luis Mandylor’s brother Nick.
The result is harmless, yet overstuffed fun. There are delights worth enjoying, but others miss the mark. Still, if you enjoyed the original, you will enjoy the sequel to a sufficient degree. That doesn’t mean “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” can redeem being good overall. It gets loud, obnoxious, and repetitive, even for this family. They are trying to stuff 10 pounds of sugar in a five-pound bag.
Vardalos and her director Kirk Jones (“What to Expect When You’re Expecting”) throw together far too many undeveloped plot contrivances, ranging from wedding shopping montages, an Ancestry.com subplot, and even a blunt twist that feels like a weird LGBT public service announcement. We don’t always need “one more thing” to go wrong for Toula. Two or three hurdles is enough on her plate. These loitering plot points comprise extras that we could do without that led to repeated dips to the same well of jokes.
Outrageous can be fun, but it has its limit. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” would have been wiser to focus on the simple parallels of belonging and change between the three main generations (Paris to Toula/Ian to Gus/Maria). They could have skipped another zany (and beyond pointless) wedding and all the related grandstanding. The film would have extracted more heart without losing any funny family involvement for cameos and laughs.
Lesson #1: Replace the Greek demographic with yours and we all have eccentric families— We all have kooky family traditions we take pride in and boisterous family members that cause embarrassment and hilarity. We all have a support system that is always there for us, whether we want them or not. To borrow a line from the film, “it’s what we do.”
Lesson #2: A woman’s evolving path and place in an extended family— The proud and independence-seeking women of Nia Vardalos’s writing have always been front-and-center ahead of the correctly pig-headed men. We watch Toula evolve as a mother and a daughter. Despite her best overprotective intentions, she sees herself with Paris becoming more like her own mother Marie was to her. Furthermore, as a middle-aged daughter, it is becoming her responsibility to take care of her aging parents. The women here may seek a voice or role of personal independence, but they are sought to better their family not themselves.