Sure it’s sweet, but much of it is uneven and even unfunny. Many of the characters are flat, under-developed and/or under-used. But somehow, when it all comes together toward the end, it seriously pulls at your heartstrings and you realize that this crazy family is one in which you enjoyed spending time with. Of course, I’m talking about the first My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a small little romantic comedy that shockingly took the world by storm when it became one of the highest grossing rom-coms of all-time, grossing over $350 million worldwide despite it’s meager five million dollar budget. It even earned an Academy Award nomination for its star and screenwriter, Nia Vardalos, for Best Original Screenplay (it lost that year to Pedro Almodovar’s Talk to Her). So inevitably in an era where nostalgia and re-makes reign supreme, here comes My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (opening today), and it’s more of what we would expect from the franchise…and that’s a good thing.
Let’s pretend that the short-lived TV series “My Big Fat Greek Life” doesn’t exist, because the movies side-step this failed attempt to cash in on the first film’s success. At the end of the first film (spoiler alert!), Toula (Vardalos) has married her non-Greek husband Ian Miller (John Corbett), who has finally gained the love and approval from Toula’s crazy, traditional Greek family. With family being the driving force in their life, they don’t move far…in fact, they move in next store to Toula’s parents Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan). We also see in the final scene of the first film, that Toula and Ian have a baby girl.
Flash-forward to My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, and that baby is now your typical, eye-rolling teenage girl who at age 17, is looking to distance herself from her uncool parents while trying to balance out her social life and future (the daughter, Paris, is played by Elena Kampouris). Her grandpa Gus – like he has with all of the Portokalos women – urges Paris to find and marry a nice Greek boy. Meanwhile, Toula and Ian have grown apart, and they look for ways to re-connect and rekindle their romance, now lost after nearly two decades of marriage.
With Paris trying to figure out her college plans – is she going to get the hell away from her crazy family or will she go to a local college? – the plot thickens when Gus and Maria discover that they are actually not married due to a marriage license technicality. Maria and Gus are both stubborn old Greeks, so when Gus refuses to re-propose to Maria in proper fashion, Maria refuses to marry him. Oh, movie-universe problems.
All of this is the normal fluff that rom-coms are made of. Of course, Gus and Maria eventually decide to move forward, so why not throw another big family wedding?
While it is not critical that you see the first movie in order to enjoy this one, it would help immensely. This sequel is a love-letter to the first film and its fans, and there are several references to scenes and moments from the prior movie…just remember this when the audience erupts in laughter when Gus sprays Windex down his trousers. If you haven’t seen the first film, this may not make a whole lot of sense.
Flirting with blasphemy, dare I suggest that the first movie was never perfect, despite being beloved by millions. This movie follows suit. There are a lot of jokes and moments that fall flat, the framework is little more than sit-com, and there are several characters that once again serve no real purpose (John Stamos, what the hell are you doing in this movie?). You may find yourself scratching your head and asking: Did we really need a second Big Fat movie? By the time the credits roll though, you’ll feel the same tug of the heartstrings that was familiar the first time.
The truth is, the zany antics of the Portokalos family are relatable to any of us with big families, of any ethnicity. And it’s a credit to the ensemble that even as they are thinly drawn on the page, we are endeared to their characters. From Gus and Maria (in many ways, Michael Constantine alone makes both films work), to her domineering Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin), to the cooky grandmother (Bess Meisler), we see our own relatives. All of the bit players – brother Nick (Louis Mandylor), cousin Angelo (Joey Fatone), cousin Nikki (Gia Carides) and several more – add dynamics to the fun.
This would be an easy movie to pile on to and rag on, but in the end this is just a family that you will want to spend time around. People who go see this sequel already love these characters, presumably, and there is little chance that you won’t still love them when this one ends.
Very slyly, Vardalos – who again wrote the script – has something to say about love, marriage and family, now from the perspective of a mother as opposed to a daughter. The parallels that are drawn between the daughter Paris, the aging couple and the middle-aged parents who find themselves in a stale marriage, really is done nicely. I can recall at the end of the first film, when Gus speaks at Toula’s wedding and says something about the two family names meaning “apples” and “oranges” in Greek. He summarizes that “we’re all fruits.” His love overrides any of the ethnic pressure he was placing on his daughter to marry Greek. There is love and acceptance found in this film too, just in different ways. And for as little as it seems the first half of the movie is working in any way, it’s a credit to Vardalos’s script and the performances of the ensemble, that we end up caring at all.
Just like any family, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is far from perfect. But it’s enough. If you loved the first movie, you’ll love the second. And if you didn’t love the first movie…nah just kidding. Who didn’t love the first movie?
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Run Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin, Gia Carides, Joey Fatone, Louis Mandylor
Written by Nia Vardalos (What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Everybody’s Fine, Nanny McPhee, Waking Ned Devine)
Directed by Kirk Jones (The Captive, Devil’s Knot, Chloe, Adoration, Where the Truth Lies, The Sweet Hereafter)
Opens locally on Friday, March 25, 2016 (check for show times).