The story surrounding My Big Fat Greek Wedding is just about as heartwarming as the film itself. The movie’s legend, at least according to the tale propagated by those involved, deals with star and writer Nia Vardalos getting her one-woman show on the same topic seen by Rita Wilson who, along with her husband Tom Hanks, decided nearly immediately to produce the film. Made on a five million dollar budget, the film had incredible legs and grossed more than 240 million dollars domestically and more than 125 million abroad. Clearly, by all accounts, the film has been phenomenally successful.
The plot of the film itself is relatively standard clash-of-cultures rom-com fare, but it’s clash-of-cultures rom-com fare with likable characters (both in the leads and supporting) and where nearly all the jokes land. If the film didn’t do so well at the box office I would think that my opinions are colored by having participated in a clash-of-cultures wedding eerily similar to some of the things that occur in Greek Wedding (okay, cross this film with Monsoon Wedding and you totally have my nuptials, but that’s neither here nor there).
Directed by Joel Zwick, Vardalos stars in Greek Wedding as Toula Portokolas opposite John Corbett’s Ian Miller. Toula is the daughter of Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan) – her dad runs a Greek diner and thinks he runs the household too, but Maria is actually in charge there. Toula’s parents are not merely Greek, they are exceptionally loud about their Greek-ness (Gus more than Maria) and it embarrasses Toula, hugely. What Gus and Maria want is for Toula to know and be proud of her heritage, but the result is that Toula tends to shun it. She isn’t upset by being Greek, just how loud her parents are about it.
In walks Ian Miller. Toula doesn’t fall for him because he isn’t Greek, but—against her parents long-stated desires for her beaus—she allows herself to feel something for him despite his not being Greek. The romance, however, blossoms and the two are soon engaged. Then, the wedding planning begins and things quickly get out of control.
I, along with many others, think the entire thing is hysterical, but there is certainly another way to read the film. The jokes definitely land, but most of them are told at the expense of Toula’s Greek family and generally about their being Greek. Ian’s family gets ribbed for their incredible WASP-ness, but the story is about Toula and her family and that’s where the jokes are.
There is a Seinfeld episode in which Jerry suspects that his friend, Tim Whatley, becomes Jewish so that he can tell Jewish jokes. Vardalos is Greek, so she can tell Greek jokes, but some would suggest that non-Greeks shouldn’t laugh at them. Is it okay for you to laugh at Jewish jokes if you’re not Jewish? African-American jokes if you’re not African-American? The answer may not be clear cut.
In a new featurette included on the Blu-ray (the only new item included), Vardalos discusses how she wrote the screenplay and did the one woman show because she couldn’t get another job in Hollywood. She talks about how she wasn’t seen as being pretty enough to be a leading lady, she wasn’t Latino enough to play a Latino woman, etc., and so was in a sense forced to sell her Greek-ness and did it with comedy. Was she forced then to sell—and undercut—her culture, making it acceptable to “mainstream?”
From the featurette it seems that Vardalos would probably disagree, and for me that’s enough. If Vardalos is okay with people laughing, if that’s the point of the whole thing, then I’m fine with laughing. And, as said, there really is a whole lot to laugh about – the film is hysterically funny. It isn’t just Vardalos, Corbett, Constantine, and Kazan who are funny, it is everyone. Louis Mandylor as Toula’s brother, Nikki, and Andrea Martin as her Aunt Voula particularly stand out.
In terms of this Blu-ray’s bonus features, however, things could be better. There is a digital and DVD copy, and the aforementioned featurette as well as a commentary from the original DVD release and some deleted scenes. That’s it. While the new featurette is an amusing and fun 30 minutes—it features Vardalos and Corbett talking along with some older interviews—the anecdotes told in it would be better were they supplemented with more pieces.
The technical side of things are good, but certainly not great. It is, most definitely, a clean print, and one with enough detail. However, there are a number of nighttime scenes, and in them all the blacks meld into one another. Regularly, it is impossible to tell where the background ends and a suit begins or where hair ends and a blouse starts. Whether this is an issue with the source material or the transfer I can’t say, but it is disconcerting to watch. The DTS HD 5.1 MA soundtrack, like the print, is clean, but it isn’t as full or rich as a bigger budget production might be. There is in fact one scene where the room tone and voices seem to change mid-scene. It is all okay, and I don’t know that with a minimalist budget for a film that was quickly shot there is much more available.
Vardalos and Corbett describe the making of the film and its success as something of a once in a lifetime deal, one where all the pieces just came into place. Zwick is an excellent director who had a great cast and a wonderful screenplay. In short, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is one of those romantic comedies which is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, well worth one’s time. It won’t change your life, but you’ll smile and laugh.