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MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Lainie Kazan, Michael Constantine, Andrea Martin, Joey Fatone
Director:  Joel Zwick
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Stereo
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  HBO Video
Features:  Audio Commentary, Cast Bios
Length:  95 Minutes
Release Date:  February 11, 2003

“Toula, on my wedding night, my mother, she said to me, ‘Greek women, we may be lambs in the kitchen, but we are tigers in the bedroom!’”

“PLEASE let that be the end of your story.”

Film ***

Talk about the little film that could!  When My Big Fat Greek Wedding first came out, it only appeared in a small number of theatres.  It was a modestly budgeted independent film with very little advertising, and seemingly very little to lose.

And some people came.  And those people told their friends about it, and they came as well.  Then those friends told other friends.  The movie started opening in more and more theatres and just kept running and running.  Like the characters in the film, the movie itself seemed destined for some kind of crazy, bewildering happy ending.  And it got one.  It was a top ten movie for 2002, grossing over $200 million at the domestic box office, and officially becoming both the most profitable indie film AND the most successful romantic comedy ever.

Not bad for a picture that sprung from the mind of its plucky star as a one woman play!  Nia Vardalos turned her boisterous family, her traditions and heritage, and yes, her big fat wedding, into comedic fodder first for stage audiences and then for the big screen.  My Big Fat Greek Wedding is her debut screenplay, and it’s as charming, sweet, funny and personal as can be.

She plays Toula, a mousy Greek American woman who, at the beginning of the film, is living under the curse of being 30 and unmarried.  Her family is an absolute scream, beginning with her father Gus (Constantine), who proudly traces any word (even Japanese ones) back to a Greek origin and believes anything can be cured with Windex, to her wonderful mother Maria (Kazan), always ready with some forward advice, to her nagging aunt (Martin) with her funny sharp tongue.  That’s not even mentioning her bickering cousins or her grandmother, who still sleeps with a knife under her pillow because she’s convinced the Greeks are still fighting the Turks!

And everyone in the family has Toula on the mind.  They want to see her married.  Toula only wants to go to school and make something of herself.  Returning to college leads to her growing self confidence and blossoming, just in time to meet the man of her dreams, Ian (Corbett).  He’s romantic, kind, funny, and handsome…the two fall very quickly and very deeply in love.  And they’d live happily ever after, except for one little detail.  He’s not Greek…and that’s a VERY big family she has.

“He’s gonna look at me and decide I’m not worth it,” she worries, as Ian is given a crash course in Greekdom by her family.  But this is not a movie that goes the conventional conflict route.  There really is never any question about will they or won’t they go through with it, which I think makes it more romantic than most movies by leaps and bounds.  This is a picture where we simply enjoy the company of some very colorful characters while identifying with Ian as he learns his fiancée’s family ways, and with Toula as she finds herself pulled in all directions by a family for whom she feels both love and frustration.

This is a sweet natured picture that simply hits all the right notes.  The story in the movie is appealing, but not half as impressive as the behind-the-scenes story:  actress Rita Wilson, herself of Greek heritage, saw and loved Nia’s play so much that she convinced her husband, Tom Hanks, that it should be a movie.  Their clout as producers helped get a movie made that frankly, given the simplicity of its subject matter and the fact that it revels in foreign customs, probably never would have been touched by the studios.  As Nia has since claimed, getting the film made was a miracle in and of itself, but achieving the kind of success it did?  That was more than any of them could have ever dreamed.

The names of Hanks and Wilson may have gotten the movie some attention, but it succeeds purely on the strength of Ms. Vardalos.  Her heart and humor permeate both her script and her performance.  These people are larger than life, but she sees through the pomp and tradition and finds the humanity in all of them.  She loves these people very much…it’s no wonder we end up loving them, too.

Video ****

This is a strikingly good anamorphic presentation from HBO (full frame version also included).  For a low budgeted film, the cinematography was quite keen throughout:  colors are rich, plentiful and beautiful, and images are clean, crisp, and exhibiting remarkable detail in both short and long shots.  Low lit scenes play just as beautifully as brighter ones, with no interfering grain or compression and a very clean print to boot.  A terrific effort.

Audio **

The film is mostly dialogue oriented, so the 5.1 soundtrack is serviceable, but undemanding.  The rear stage is used extremely sparingly, only giving a touch of ambience to a crowd scene here and there.  The subwoofer remained pretty much inactive throughout, but nothing in the audio really required extra bottom end.  No complaints here…it’s simply unspectacular by nature.

Features **

The features are light, but highlighted by a delightful commentary track with Nia Vardalos, John Corbett and Joel Zwick.  Ms. Vardalos is an endless fountain of information, tying virtually everything we see in the film to her real life…very sweet and funny stuff!  Also included are cast talent files.

Summary:

The audience has spoken, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding made movie history, with box office numbers that made this little independent romantic comedy stand tall with superheroes and tales of galaxies far, far away.  Owe it all to the pluck, charm, and warmth of writer and star Nia Vardalos, who poured her heart and humor into a comedy about romance and family, and why we love them in spite of all the crazy things they do.