Directed by: Donald Petrie (Just My Luck)
Starring: Nia Vardalos, Richard Dreyfuss, Alexis Georgoulis, Alistair McGowan, Harland Williams, Ian Ogilvy
Nia Vardalos returns to flash her teeth at us in My Life in Ruins. Considering that the pun of its title—referring to both the main character’s emotional state and her locale in Greece—is probably the cleverest thing about the movie, you may well need to know nothing else. Rarely has such an undisguised compendium of clichés cluttered up the screen. It’s like neither Vardalos, nor director Donald Petrie, nor former Simpsons scribe Mike Reiss can be bothered to dress any of this up to disguise its utterly derivative nature. The truth is they probably weren’t bothered, because they felt they didn’t need to be.
This isn’t a movie; this is a commodity. The whole point is that it’s all so comforting and familiar that you’re supposed to have been programmed to like it for those very reasons. And there’s a chance that you very well might. I can’t say I hated it myself. I was never bored by it, though that may have in part been simple fascination at the way it kept doing exactly what I thought it would at every single turn—which verges on a kind of genius one rarely encounters. Even the most hackneyed screenplay usually manages at least one minor variation, if only by accident. Not so here.
Here’s the story. Georgia (Vardalos) came to Greece as a teacher, but budget cuts removed her from gainful employment, and so she has descended to working as a guide for Pangloss Tours (should Voltaire sue?). As the movie opens, Georgia has by her own admission hit bottom. She’s lousy at her job (tourists aren’t actually interested in history lessons, you see). She always gets the worst tourists. (This means we’ll be treated to a collection of clichéd types who will either make you split your sides with their zany antics or touch your heart with their basic goodness—and sometimes both in a bid for inducing diabetic comas in the audience.)
Worse, her most recent application for a teaching job back in the States has met with rejection and she’s been saddled with Pangloss’ very hairy, creepy and taciturn driver Poupi (Greek actor Alexis Georgoulis). Yes, Poupi is pronounced exactly as you think. Better still, his last name is Caca. And if you’re rolling in the aisle now, just wait till you find out he has a nephew named Doudi Caca. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.
The tour commences. Georgia prattles on about her lack of a sex life to Poupi, because she thinks he doesn’t understand English. Guess how that works out. The painful “life of the party” old man, Irv (Richard Dreyfuss), has a secret sorrow and a good heart. Well, everyone has a good heart except for nasty rival tour guide Nico (Brit TV actor Alistair McGowan). And of course, Poupi isn’t really creepy at all—merely tall, dark and hirsute, as well as soon besotted with Georgia. Life lessons are learned, love is found, love is refound, friends are made, quasi-tragedy is flirted with, and everyone will learn to dance thanks to Zorba the Greek (1964), which appears to play nonstop on Greek TV. That they should learn Greek dancing from a Mexican-born actor (Anthony Quinn) in a film produced by 20th Century Fox is somehow less ironic than just about right for a movie like this. Rated PG-13 for sexual content.