Based on a comedy routine and stage play by comedienne Nia Vardalos (who stars here and wrote the screenplay), My Big Fat Greek Wedding affectionately ribs large, loud, ethnic families obsessively steeped in old-world tradition. Vardalos plays Toula Portokalos, a dowdy thirtysomething quietly wasting away as a waitress in her father’s Greek restaurant in Chicago. Having thus far failed to fulfill the cultural mandates of marrying a Greek boy, breeding Greek babies and “feeding everyone,” she has her family worried that she’ll wind up a lonely old maid. Even her own dad tells her he wishes she’d marry soon because she’s “looking old.”
Toula, however, wants to return to college and update her computer skills. When she falls for Ian Miller, a handsome, non-Greek, vegetarian high-school teacher (emphasis on non-Greek), her personal quest for happiness seems even more impossibly at odds with her family’s expectations. Her father, Gus, refuses to accept her new romance. He’s furious. You half expect the eccentric immigrant (who treats Windex as a cure-all, has a Greek flag painted on his garage door, and roasts lamb on a spit in the front yard) to break into a rousing chorus of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof. Then he softens. Realizing how happy Toula is, Gus follows his wife’s lead and embraces Ian, as well as the young man’s WASPy, button-down parents. But are the country-clubbing Millers ready to meet the wild and wooly Portokalos clan with its two-dozen first cousins, plastic slip covers, lawn ornaments and a nagging aunt convinced that a growth on her neck is actually her own twin?
positive elements: Members of the Portokalos family are eager to claim their Greek heritage. They cherish their rich ancestry. It’s refreshing to see multiple generations proud to be part of something larger than themselves. In spite of her family’s overbearing quirkiness, Toula concludes that she loves them, warts and all, and takes some comfort in the knowledge that, “Wherever I go, whatever I do, they’ll always be there.” Both sets of in-laws are interested in their children’s marital bliss, even if it means letting go of long-held prejudices (Gus) or stepping out of their prim and proper comfort zone (the Millers). After resigning herself to a bland life (“It’s useless to dream because nothing ever changes”), Toula discovers how quickly things can turn around for the better. She resists repeating mistakes of childhood and puts herself in a position to succeed, which leads to greater self-confidence. Ian also bolsters her self-image, refusing to see her as anything but beautiful (“I don’t remember ‘frump girl,’ but I remember you”). He’s also undaunted in his quest to be close to her (“You’re a part of your family, and I’ll do whatever it takes for them to accept me”). Toula’s mother actively assists her in pursuit of her dreams. When Toula’s frustration with wedding planning inspires her to urge Ian to elope with her, he refuses because he knows how important it is to her family to be involved. Nick determines to make something of himself, and tells his sister she shouldn’t let the past dictate who she is, but that the best of her history can positively impact who she will become.
spiritual content: The Millers aren’t religious at all. The Portokaloses are Greek Orthodox, but all signs indicate that their faith is based mainly on cultural tradition and superstition. It’s common for the women to spit on people (including the bride as she walks down the aisle) for good luck and “to keep the devil away.” When people hear shocking and disturbing news, they instinctively cross themselves. Ian volunteers to be baptized in the church, which uses an inflatable kiddie pool as a baptismal. Maria mentions that she teaches Sunday school. The wedding ceremony, while entirely in Greek, is formal and reverent.
sexual content: Cousin Nikki and other girls wear low-cut dresses. Toula and Ian kiss passionately on several occasions. He invites her up to his apartment and she jumps him. They���re shown later half-dressed in bed (sex is implied). Maria gives daughter Toula a brief, vague sex talk on her wedding day.
violent content: Minor. After Ian accidentally walks into an old lady on a city street, she repeatedly whacks him over the head with her handbag. Gus and Maria scold their grown son, Nick, with a mild slap on the back of the head. With tongue in cheek, Nick threatens to kill Ian if he ever hurts Toula.
crude or profane language: With the exception of an early flurry of crudities by the unrefined Nikki, there are fewer than 10 profanities (though there’s one s-word, an exclamatory uses of Jesus’ name, and the phrase “for g–sake”). Nick and Angelo have fun at Ian’s expense when, in an attempt to impress his prospective in-laws with Greek, Ian asks them for translations that end up with the poor guy publicly proclaiming “nice boobs” and “I have three testicles.”
drug and alcohol content: There’s quite a bit of alcohol use. Grandma drinks a bottle of beer. People drink wine or champagne at dinners and at the wedding reception. When the families meet for the first time at the Portokalos home, people down multiple shots of ouzo (the Millers show signs of drunkenness).
conclusion: One of the sweetest romantic comedies to come along in some time, My Big Fat Greek Wedding charted a rather unconventional course into the box-office Top 10. While most films open big (pulling in tens of millions of dollars), fade considerably in the ensuing weeks, and then bide their time until they get hit with the defibrillator of home video, this sleeper opened on 108 screens in April and made just $600,000 its first weekend. Then the buzz started. Positive word-of-mouth has made it the summer’s surprise hit. Now on more than 2,000 screens, the little movie that could (made for a measly $5 million) is on pace to earn more than $200 million. Paul Dergarabedian of box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co. said, “I’ve never seen anything quite like this. This is the most competitive summer ever, and [Greek Wedding is] holding its own against all the big films out there.”
Maybe that’s because the major studios underestimate the viability of intelligent, character-driven, reasonably clean fare between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Mature audiences want more for their summer dollar than slam-bang action, bathroom humor and showy special effects. They want well-told stories about interesting people. They want movies with heart. (Note to Hollywood: The heart is an organ located above the waist.) My Big Fat Greek Wedding fills the bill. It’s funny, smart, well-acted and touching with a point to make about family ties. Some language and sexual situations are disappointing, but for adults with a healthy perspective on these issues, the Portokalos/Miller party is a wedding worth attending. And not just for the baklava.