Okay, so maybe the story has been told before. Ugly girl
with overbearing family finds herself lost in a life she wouldn't choose.
With her personality overwhelmed and her dreams seemingly not within
reach, one day she struggles with these odds and, almost giving up,
she finds the courage and asks for what she wants. With the help of
a real-life fairy godmother (in this case, her mother), she gets a chance
and changes her life.
In My Big Fat Greek Wedding (directed by
Joel Zwick), Nia Vardalos (who, incidentally, wrote this darling film)
plays Toula, daughter to an old-fashioned Greek restaurant owner (Michael
Constantine) who finds little use for modern ideas where women are concerned.
In his mind, women marry and breed and help their families. He doesn't
even have a whole helluva lot of time for his son (Louis Mandylor),
whose own aspirations are lost in the restaurant, just like everyone
else's. The Dad may seem hard, but he is not hard-hearted. He wants
a better life for his family than the one that he had growing up, and
he's worked for it while keeping traditions intact. He expects nothing
less from them.
wants more, though - education, a job away from the restaurant, and
yes, you got it, romance. Into the restaurant walks Ian (Sex and
the City's John Corbett), all smiles and long hair, with "sensitive
man" written all over him. He is as far from her father as Godiva's
chocolate raspberry truffle ice cream is from Dreyer's Girl Scout Thin
Mint Ice Cream. They both are damn good, but in totally different ways.
Toula's mom (Lainie Kazan) helps her out of the house and into school,
out of the restaurant and into a job where Toula actually is so happy
she skips around the office (what would that feel like, I wonder).
getting out of the restaurant and working for an aunt and uncle is much
easier than it would ever be to convince her father that an outsider,
a non-Greek, could be worthy husband material.
Regardless, white-bread Ian and Greek-from-head-to-toe Toula fall for
each other, and Ian's love extends to the point that he does anything
he can to get her family to accept him. This is not an easy task,and
includes his being baptized in a blow-up kiddie paddle pool in a Greek
Orthodox church, and suffering as the butt of many of Toula's brother's
Needless to say, it all works out in the end.
Normally, this would seem trite, but it isn't and I'll tell you why.
First, Nia Vardalos is believable. She isn't a dressed down Halle Berry;
she is actually a normal looking Greek woman with an enviable head of
hair, a pair
of hips and a way with a facial expression.
Second, John Corbett is believable. Anyone else would seem like a wimp,
but he seems so sincere (if sometimes a little wooden) that he comes
off as sensitive and adoring in a delightful way. Further, his enjoyment
of Toula's family and his love for Toula herself make it all seem worth
it. And frankly, they are worth it.
Third, Andrea Martin, a comedienne I remember from Second City TV and
possibly one of the most under-utilized comic actresses in the business
(Christopher Guest! Cast this woman!), nearly steals the show as Toula's
the family is lovable and annoying, just as they should be. The ethnic
traits could have dragged as stereotypes, but instead they fly as humorous
Fifth, there is an attention to detail, augmenting these ethnic traits
to the point where they are funny without being insulting. From hair,
clothes and makeup to home decor and food, nothing is left out. It is
a delight to catch them. Such a bevy of outlandish generalities I haven't
seen since Married to the Mob, but this is better and more loving.
the story is delivered with well-meaning humor, and it works. I haven't
laughed so hard in a cinema in years. I don't even remember the last
time I was so grandly entertained. From Aunt Voula's, breezily stating,
after hearing Ian is a vegetarian, "That's all right, I'll cook
lamb." To mama Maria's asking Ian if he's hungry, accepting his
reply of "No, I just ate" and continuing, "Okay, I'll
fix you something." To Toula's explaining that the way things go
in her family,everyone one ends up as "Loud, breeding, Greek eaters."
I was also often moved, as when grandma Yiayia (Bess Meisler) presents
a shell-encrusted box of mementos to her granddaughter the day before
the wedding, and brother Nick's telling Toula she was worth Ian's acts
I grew up in a town full of WASPs where our only "ethnic"
diversity were the folks from the Catholic church, and later the Taco
Bell that sprung up by the highway. I'd always felt cheated, and understandably.
If we don't embrace the traditions, music, food, language and writing
of the many with whom we share this planet, we will be left with the
boring, as Toula's father says, "dry as toast" lives we may
have been born into.
I thank Nia Vardelos for sharing her world with me. It is a gift I
©2002 Lovell Mahan-Moutaw