When Nia Vardalos first introduced the world to the Greek social sector of American life back in 2002, the only pop culture image of the Greek persona went as far back as Cypriot Michael Cacoyannis’s 1964 British-Greek drama, “Zorba the Greek.” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” took off and became a phenomenon, because it struck a surprising pleasantry in the realm of American heritage.
As one who is Greek, I love and embrace Vardalos’s wonderful depiction of the dynamic within a Greek family. Her story never feels old, retired or forced, proven in the amount of times I associate the name, “Ian Miller,” with Michael Constantine’s exaggerated pronunciation: “EE-Yahn Mee-ler.” Each character develops from their Greek notifiers but Vardalos introduces and explains them not as conventional jokes but as loveable elements in the suffocating life of Vardalos’s Toula Portokalos.
Fourteen years later, Toula and her big fat Greek family returned to American cinemas nationwide on, of all days, Good Friday, Mar. 25. Easter in the Greek Orthodox Church isn’t for another several weeks, yet I’m sure “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” will not be the most quoted film of that occasion.
After the credits rolled and Christopher Lennertz’s score dissolved, I thought the final product was okay: not amazing, just adequate. I think a couple times I actually felt obligated to laugh and not because some of the Greek characteristics are rather accurate (that’s what I love about the first film). But I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Vardalos’s characters. Another sex joke? I can only muster a chuckle at egg and sperm references so many times, and my sides remained incredibly neutral throughout the total running time of 94 minutes. Vardalos’s approach to bringing back these beloved characters resulted in a clumsy vehicle, heavily reliant on reusing effective material from the original.
The film’s greatest strength is its cast, all still as alive and as sharp and as Greek as ever. No one looks misplaced, at least in the Portokalos family, which has extended to include Toula and Ian’s (John Corbett, just as “xeno” and handsome as his last appearance) teenage daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris).
Paris is seventeen and in the dreaded teen grunting phase when it comes to associating with her parents, particularly her mother, in public. Her entourage of family members has no boundaries when it comes to witnessing her major milestones, not limited to college fairs and college itself. In her quest to come into her own – meaning attending college far away from her big fat Greek family – we see a reflection of her mother’s journey.
Contrary to first impressions, the “wedding” advertised is not Paris’. It’s actually for Toula’s parents, Gus and Maria Portokalos (the dynamite Lainie Kazan and Constantine). As it turns out, the priest never signed their marriage license. Once the actual wedding planning enters the plot, the script finds its footing. The problem here is the film’s focus. It starts off with Paris, then segways into the wedding but I never felt the two connect in an effective delivery.
The narrative’s development reminded me of Vardalo’s last major Greek-related effort, “My Life in Ruins,” which I did not like initially but gradually grew to enjoy after about three more viewings. Maybe I just need to watch “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” three more times to really accept it.
My favorite moments came courtesy of Andrea Martin’s Aunt Voula, whose comedic timing is tough to follow but hysterical when she’s surrounded by the right people, notably her children Nikki (Gia Carides) and Angelo (Joey Fatone, yes, that Joey Fatone). Rita Wilson (who was the executive producer for several of Vardalo’s films, including this one) and John Stamos make a pleasant appearance as new couple Anna and George at the local Greek Orthodox Church. The ultimate scene stealer is Bess Meisler as Mana-Yiayia, Toula’s grandmother, who doesn’t look or act a day over whatever age she was in the original film.
The first film’s script worked (and received an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay), because it surprised and charmed by not trying too hard to objectify its subject matter. The tagline for that film was, “Love is here to stay…and so is her family.” For round two, the poster reads, “People change. Greeks don’t.” This is true, but don’t forget, the Greeks invented comedy. Unfortunately for “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” the jokes stumble more than they shine in their attempt to live up to their own standard.