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Laramie Movie Scope:
My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Ethnic humor with universal appeal

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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June 25, 2002 -- Once in a while a small, independent film comes along that shows the big studios how films should be made. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is one of those. This is a project that major studios would not be interested in, but it is funny, insightful, intelligent and tasteful.

Originally written and performed as a one-woman show by Nia Vardalos, it probably never would have been made into a movie had it not been for one particular Greek woman in the audience, Rita Wilson, who just happens to be married to a guy with some clout in the industry, Tom Hanks. Rita and Tom liked the stage show and thought it ought to be made into a movie. They not only had the good sense to make it into a movie (using Hanks' own production company), but they kept Vardalos as the lead actress. Smart move. Vardalos is a gifted actress, adept at both drama and physical comedy. She is also pretty, although not the usual Hollywood leading lady type.

Vardalos stars as Toula Portokalos, a frumpy 30-something woman who works in her family's restaurant, Dancing Zorba's. She feels trapped and oppressed by her family's expectations: "Nice Greek girls are expected to do three things: Marry Greek boys, make Greek babies and feed everyone until the day we die," she complains. She is compared unfavorably to her sister who married young and who pumps out Greek babies at regular intervals. Toula wears glasses and dresses in thrift store rejects. You just know she is going to lose the glasses and get better clothes by the end of the movie.

Her first plan is to get out of the restaurant and back to college. She and her mother, Maria (Lainie Kazan of "The Crew"), and another family member conspire to persuade her father, Gus (Michael Constantine of "Thinner") to let Toula work at a travel agency run by a relative. When Toula says she doesn't think her father will let her leave, her mother says she will take care of it. "He may be the head of the family," Maria says, "but I'm the neck and the neck can turn the head any way it wants to." Then she meets a very handsome, eligible bachelor, Ian Miller (played by John Corbett of "Serendipity"). The only trouble is, he is not Greek. Her family wants her to marry a Greek man. Overcoming the family's opposition is a formidable task.

Although the film is about a Greek family, it could have just as easily been about any family. The story shows a lot of insight and compassion. Unlike most comedies, this is for adults. The characters are grown up and they know what they want. There is some very funny physical comedy, but the emphasis is on comedy which rises from the characters. The central love story is very solid with Vardalos and Corbett making a great couple. They seem to be not only emotional, but intellectual equals. A lesser man would have been overwhelmed by the very demonstrative and intimidating Portokalos family, but Miller handles himself well. He knows what is important and he is willing to do what it takes to marry the woman he loves. Corbett's performance is very strong. He is the foundation upon which the film rests. Vardalos has a more emotional role. She is buffeted by the forces around her and is intimidated by her family. She has finds the strength, however, to stand up for herself. Vardalos' performance is rich and vibrant. She shows great tenderness and vulnerability.

Veteran actor Michael Constantine is wonderful as the father obsessed with all things Greek. He gets carried away with tradition sometimes, but his heart is in the right place. Lainie Kazan is solid as the archetypal mother. Andrea Martin of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is effective as the strange Aunt Voula. Louis Mandylor of "Enemy Action" does a great job as Nick, Toula's oppressed brother. The director, Joel Zwick, who has done mostly television work up until now, does a fine job directing the film. This is a very funny, heartwarming film. It has fun with the quirks of family life, but it also treats the subject with fondness and respect. It rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)