The joke was on me when I first saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding back in 2002: I watched the film at a press screening that also happened to be attended by a large group of older female tourists. While I grimaced through the movie’s obvious gags and not-ready-for-prime-time direction, these folks ate it up, laughing, cheering, clapping. I didn’t like the film, but it was hard for me to feel too bad about something that occasioned such joy. OK, maybe it wasn’t a good movie, I conceded, but at least it was a nice one. Nevertheless, I left that screening confident that this tiny indie release would be quickly forgotten and relegated to the dustbin of history.
Greek Wedding became a runaway hit, of course, eventually making $240 million and placing in the box office top five alongside the likes of Spider-Man and that year’s Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings entries. Its magic had eluded me then, but rewatching it recently, I found myself enjoying its awkward, unglamorous charm. Back in ’02, the ugly-duckling rom-com concept seemed so tired, especially as such movies rarely starred someone who wasn’t in fact a sylphlike beauty gone undercover. By contrast, the unglamorous, likable writer-star Nia Vardalos felt like someone you might actually know. I had also failed to catch how the film’s gently humorous observations about Greek families carried near-universal appeal in a nation of immigrants; with a few subtle shifts, the lead character’s overbearing, boisterous, chatty family could have easily been Jewish, Italian, Arab, or Turkish.
That same spirit is partly evident in the sequel, the imaginatively titled My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, which picks up the same characters some years later. The jokes are mostly the same, though a couple have been updated in obvious ways. (“The Greeks invented Facebook. We called it ‘the telephone.’ “) Toula (Vardalos) and her WASP husband, Ian (John Corbett), now have a teenage daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), who’s considering attending college outside of Chicago to be free of her smothering family. It’s easy to see why. In the opening scene, Toula’s Windex-toting father Gus (Michael Constantine) gives Paris some familiar advice: “You’re starting to look old. You gotta get married.” When he said this to thirty-year-old Toula at the start of the first film, it felt like a bit of old-country quaintness. When he says it to a teenager here, it feels kind of creepy.
The wedding this time turns out to be Gus’s own. He discovers that his original marriage certificate to Maria (the great Lainie Kazan) was never signed, which means that, technically speaking, they’re not actually husband and wife. He thinks the situation can be cleared up and their matrimony made official pretty quickly, but after years of dutiful companionship, Maria wants Gus to make her an honest-to-goodness romantic proposal; apparently, his first consisted of the words “I’m going to America. You coming or not?” He’s too proud, and maybe too old, to get on bended knee. So she resists.
But then, well, she doesn’t. It is one of the structural facets of these Greek Wedding movies that no narrative challenge ever hangs around for long; obstacles are set up and knocked down within minutes. As Maria and her fellow Greek ladies try to put together a kitschy, blow-out wedding, a professional planner appears for one montage — and then quits. Gus has a brother he left behind in Greece who shows up for the ceremony and appears to resent Gus’s success — for about thirty seconds. One of Toula’s relatives is hiding the fact that he’s gay from his family — and is then told it’s OK. It’s all over in, like, five minutes. If you’re being charitable, such looseness adds to the films’ offhand, homespun quality. Really, though, it’s a sign of carelessness.
There’s little drama here, but there is a touching sense of reflection. In the first film, Toula’s desire to do something more with her life and her attraction to the hunky Ian drove the story. Now we see the way love fades across generations. As Gus and Maria try to remember what romance even felt like, Toula and Ian can sense it slowly draining from their own lives. (“Remember, you were a girlfriend before you were a mother,” Toula is somberly reminded.) Meanwhile, Paris seems to experience her first burst of romance at school. None of these elements are handled with much grace or nuance: A convenient prom subplot shows up for Paris at just the right point, while Toula and Ian have one abortive date night, which is good for a couple of easy laughs.
But again, it’s a nice movie. Not a good one, or a well-made one, or a smart one, but a nice one. It relies on our fondness for these characters and performers to paper over its many, many rough spots. That’s the sequel formula in general, but follow-ups aren’t usually looking back at their originals across a chasm of fourteen years. Will those who adored the first film remember it, or care enough, to go along for the ride? It seems iffy. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 has some charming moments, but bank on this: It’ll be quickly forgotten and relegated to the dustbin of history. And I’m never wrong about such things.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
Directed by Kirk Jones
Opens March 25