Directed by: Joel Zwick
Starring: Nia Vardolos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin
A friend of mine came up to me part way through My Big Fat Greek Wedding and asked how I liked it. "It reminds me a lot of a TV sitcom," I remarked. That's not terribly surprising when you scan the credits of director Joel Zwick -- Family Matters, Full House, Joanie Loves Chachi, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Webster, Bosom Buddies. ... It's a veritable cornucopia of sitcomery in its most extreme form by (Mr. Zwick might be said to be a card-carrying sitcommunist) -- comfortable, cozy, unthreatening and, above all, unsurprising. Of course, it's that last named series that explains just what Zwick -- whose only previous theatrical feature was that Lusitania of comedies, Second Sight -- is doing helming this film, since it's co-produced by Tom Hanks, whose career evolved from Bosom Buddies. While one might suppose the choice of Zwick for director has more to do with personal feelings than artistic judgment, he's probably the perfect choice for My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is nothing if not comfortable, cozy, unthreatening and, above all, unsurprising. Adapted by star Nia Vardolos from her one-woman show using the same material, this fleshed-out version is a kind of Greek variant on that old chestnut, Abie's Irish Rose, which was given the sitcom treatment back in the 1970s with the TV series Bridget Loves Bernie. So here's the same old culture clash comedy dusted off for the 21st century, proving that Peter Allen (and Barenaked Ladies, for that matter) was right: Everything old is new again. Or if it's not exactly new, it's at least still with us -- and covered in a pretty thick layer of dust. Perhaps the makers of My Big Fat Greek Wedding subscribe to the Quentin Crisp theory of housekeeping -- "After the first four years, the dust doesn't get any worse" -- but this feels more like 70 years of dust, and badly in need of an airing out. Here's the premise (or situation): Toula (Vardolos) is the bespectacled, uber-frumpy, intensely rabbit-like daughter of a caricature Greek family. She gets herself contact lenses, a new hair-do and some make-up, et voila she's ... beautiful. Well, maybe she's not quite beautiful, but considerably improved. She then falls in love with the very non-Greek Ian Miller (John Corbett, Northern Exposure), an attractive school teacher, whom she's had a crush on ever since she saw him in the family restaurant during her "frumpy period." What little believability any of this had goes right out the window when he remembers her from that earlier encounter, and things only get more sitcom-land implausible from there. Naturally, her parents are appalled that she'd even consider marrying outside their background, despite the fact that Ian is perfectly willing to be baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church and gamely tries to adapt to their ways (teaching him to say mildly PG-rated rude things in Greek to make a fool of him becomes a favorite past-time). Considering the title and the sitcom nature of it all, it's no great shock that it all turns out right in the end. That's not to say that the movie's dreadful. It's not. Some of it is actually pretty funny -- especially Michael Constantine's obsession with Windex -- but it's all material that either feels recycled or that's very obviously an attempt at illustrating what is essentially a stand-up routine. The cast is likable enough. Old pros such as Constantine, Lainie Kazan and Andrea Martin deliver strong caricature performances, but they stubbornly remain caricatures rather than characters. The leads, on the other hand, are adequate but bland, which pretty much sums up this harmless little movie. It exists solely because Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson saw Vardolos show, were enthused about it and decided it needed to be turned into a movie. Whether or not you'll thank them or wish they'd kept their enthusiasm to themselves is strictly a question of your penchant for sitcoms.