Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 | 94 min | PG-13
Directed by: Kirk Jones
Starring: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Elena Kampouris, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin, Joey Fatone, Alex Wolff, Bess Meisler
It’s been fourteen years since MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING hit theaters and became a sleeper sensation. Back in 2003, its trip to the small screen – MY BIG FAT GREEK LIFE – was short-lived, lasting only seven episodes. It failed to connect the same way as the original, but at least we got to spend a bit more time with the much beloved fictional Portokalos family. Hoping the recapture the lightning in the bottle is a second silver screen chapter in the family’s ever growing saga, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2. Though all the cast members return to the roles they originated, as does actress and writer Nia Vardalos, the saccharine story doesn’t grab hold nearly as well.
Toula (Vardalos) has let life – and her demanding, exhausting Greek family – wear her down and is once again suffering from an identity crisis. She and her suave and sexy husband Ian (John Corbett) have somehow (we know how) forgotten to take care of each other along the way. Their seventeen-year-old, Paris (Elena Kampouris), is suffering from the terrible teens, finding terminally unhip Toula and the extended family suffocating rather than supportive. Toula’s been far too involved being the “fixer,” inserting herself into the lives of her father Gus (Michael Constantine), mother Maria (Lainie Kazan) and her entire extended family. It’s clear she needs to extricate herself from this current rut in order to gain clarity. But that wouldn’t be funny – nor would it be the path this narrative takes.
There are at least three main storylines going on and Vardalos can’t find a good balance between them. It’s a bold, heartening and welcomed move that we get to spend about two-thirds of the plot dealing with the problems of the elder Portokalos generation. It’s a shame Vardalos doesn’t explore the third act “Is this all there is to marriage? What have I done?” soul-shaking epiphany. That’s an interesting facet and yet it’s dispensed with mere minutes after the character voices it. The filmmakers also show the older husbands as sexist and, while the women rebel against it slightly, they (ironically) never commit to their objection for longer than a sequence. The second thread about Toula and Ian’s passionate flames being slightly extinguished is a meaty dynamic to explore and yet the script holds back from any substantive discoveries. Slap on some lipstick and your marriage will be fine, ladies! The screenplay reverts instantly back to Toula’s need to fix her family – a psychologically detrimental thing she says she isn’t doing, but does the entire run time. Paris’ struggle – to requite a romantic crush (Alex Wolff) and decide on a college identity of her own – is sweet, but handled clumsily where it could have been a strength. Plus, there are three endings because the filmmakers weren’t sure how to perfectly tie things up with a bow.
The family’s overbearing shenanigans wear thin as there’s no effort, like the first film, to even disguise why the family travels in a pack. They’re all there in unrealistic scenarios, like at a school college fair (and many others!), where we’re forced to just accept it because the ensemble needs to be together for no good reason. One character’s story arc involves being gay; it’s expected the filmmakers would be sensitive about it – so at least there’s that. Don’t worry about a lack of nostalgia-driven gags from the first film. Those, like the Windex gag, return again before we’re even out of the opening credits. Fourteen years later, they’re now big enough to land world-famous Greek actor/ Oikos spokesman John Stamos in this. It’s also devoid of a genuinely funny, outrageously uproarious moment for Andrea Martin, playing Toula’s uninhibited Aunt Voula – but God bless her for her inherent benevolent charm. It feels predictable that Mana-YiaYia (Bess Meisler) is going to utter lines. And while you’re sitting there digesting that what you’ve seen doesn’t hold a candle to the first film, producer Rita Wilson enters the soundtrack, singing an end credits song. Oh honey.
It’s almost ironic that Vardalos’ first GREEK dealt with finding herself and establishing her identity within her family unit, as this film can’t find its identity – or provide a satisfying, hilarious plot. There’s also a sinister side to its core values of trying to fix everyone’s problems and smothering loved ones – values that are still espoused by the end. In the words of Gus, “…and there you go.”
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 opens on March 25.
Photo credit: Nia Vardolos and John Corbett star in MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.