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'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'

The volume is too high on 'Greek' romantic comedy

Friday, June 07, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

"My Big Fat Greek Wedding" looks like it's set in present-day Chicago. It feels like present-day Chicago. But it features a father who seems anchored in the '40s or '50s.

'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'

RATING: PG for suggestive situations and language

STARRING: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett

DIRECTOR: Joel Zwick

WEB SITE: movies.yahoo.com



First he tells his 30-year-old daughter in his accented English, "You better get married soon. You starting to look old." Then, when Toula (Nia Vardalos) wants to take a few classes at a nearby college, he balks. "She's smart enough for a girl," he tells his wife. For a girl?

Toula is the seating hostess at her family's Greek restaurant, Dancing Zorba's. Later, she will call this her "Frump Girl" phase. She dresses in dowdy clothes, wears outdated eyeglasses and an unflattering hairstyle and seems in need of a good anti-depressant.

But then, her Prince Charming or Mr. Right -- actually an English teacher named Ian Miller (John Corbett) -- walks into the diner and renders her dumbstruck.

They don't start dating until later, after Toula starts college, begins working at a relative's travel agency and gives herself a makeover. When it appears they could be serious, Toula must inform her family that not only has she been secretly dating, but the man is not Greek and is a vegetarian, to boot.

His family is about as bland and tiny as they get, and hers is noisy, nosy, sprawling and impossible to ignore. As they march toward a big fat Greek wedding, the culture clash is so loud that you can almost hear the cacophony in Mykonos.

"My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is based on the one-woman show written by and starring Vardalos. She says, "I basically took every Greek wedding I've ever been to, including mine, and on a scale of one to 10, I turned it up to an 11."

It worked for actress Rita Wilson, who loved it and later sent in the big gun. That would be husband Tom Hanks, who professed that marrying a Greek woman changed his life and offered to turn the show into a movie. In addition to Vardalos and Corbett, the film stars Michael Constantine and Lainie Kazan as Toula's parents, Andrea Martin as an aunt, Joey Fatone as a cousin and Louis Mandylor as Toula's brother.

It's hard to criticize this romantic comedy without sounding like I'm knocking a proud heritage -- or a dad who thinks Windex doubles as a skin ointment. I can appreciate there are people who think the world is divided into Greeks (or Italians or whatever ethnic group) and everyone else, but "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is so exaggerated that it seems almost insulting to the very people it celebrates.

The day after watching this, I saw "Monsoon Wedding" and while that is a very different film, it approaches its Indian subjects with fondness and warmth, still leaving room for laughs (and tears) now and then. Here, virtually everyone and everything is fair game and reduced to caricatures. Maybe if Vardalos had not "turned it up to an 11," she might have struck the right tone.

I suspect this worked better on stage, where Vardalos could act out the characters and voices. And having Toula's family lament her unmarried status and then despair when she falls for a kind, smart, good-looking but WASP man seems silly in today's melting-pot world.

Vardalos and Corbett nicely complement each other as a couple, and Kazan is a standout as a wife who knows how to handle her stubborn, impossibly old-fashioned husband. When Ian's white-bread mother arrives for a party with a bundt cake, it's priceless to watch Kazan try to grasp what that dainty dessert with the hole in the middle is all about.

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