Cinema Signal:

Stacy and the Greek Village Wedding
by Karen Papandrew

. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"

I put off seeing this movie. The title tells you just about everything you need to know: sentimental, feel-good, light as star dust, Cinderella in modern garb. Finally, after months at the boxoffice and more than $200 million in receipts later, I managed to "fit it in". It was not more nor less than what I expected. But I don't think you can feel disappointed in something that is what it's intended to be.

The interesting thing for a movie fan to observe here is how the theme of nationalism for a country of origin for residents of the U.S. is handled in order to have scored so highly at the boxoffice. You may think the simple idea of boy meets girl against great odds might provide enough drama for the undemanding to come in droves, and at least in part, you'd be right. You may think that a film without sex, mayhem, betrayal, drugs, rap music, foul language or religious persecution would make the clean culture folks venture into a theatre. This, too, undoubtedly has added to the flow.

But, it is about nationalism. It's also about pride and identity and immersion into a broader culture. So, I found it a lesson in how to make such thematic material innocuous enough to allow the entertainment values to win out. One way to achieve that, we learn, is to allow it to laugh at itself, to be the first to point out the foibles and vagaries that permeate groups that choose to hermetically seal themselves within the confines of their family against cultural influences from the surrounding diverse society.

In a latter day take on "Modern Millie", Toula Portokalos (Nia Vardalos), the daughter of the venerable head of the family, Gus (Michael Constantine) and understanding mother Maria (Lainie Kazan), as a first generation Greek in America has a view of life outside the strictly bound family. It's a family with enough brothers, sisters and cousins to inhabit a Hawaiian island. But the Grecian house with its columns and statues out of mythology tells it all. They have their little island and, if Gus is going to have anything to say about it, an island it will remain.

Toula is no longer young. Gad, she's into her thirties, and not a beau in sight. She works as a "seater" at "Dancing Zorbas", the family restaurant. From the outset she suffer her father's rebuke. "You better get married; you're starting to look old", he says in the first scene and repeats later. (Right away I didn't like him) She handles Dad's dominating concern about her single status with as much toleration as she can muster, but she does come up with a plan to follow her distinctive path and make of herself an individual she can be proud of. She takes a course in computer science and takes on a job at a family member's Greek travel service.

The admiration for this is lost on the family as long as there's not a Greek boyfriend in the picture. Ah, but another kind of boy appears, and she likes him. It's long-haired and handsome Ian Miller (John Corbett), a literature teacher at the local college, who takes a shine to her. Fine, she digs him, too. But she has to live with the family, and they ain't havin' any non-Greeks spoiling their mix.

Love develops and finds a way. Little by little Gus' rejection of anyone non-Greek is worn down by Ian's courageous compromises: getting baptized in the Greek church, learning Greek phrases and, largely, taking spinsterhood for his daughter out of the family destiny.

Perhaps the coming around of the father is a greater triumph in the larger meaning of things than is the adaptability of the lovelorn groom.

The actress behind the lead character, Nia Vardalos, wrote the screenplay. We needn't carry any concerns for her, connubial or otherwise, out of the fantasy she created and into real life. TV director Joel Swick helmed the project.

This is not challenging stuff. After the first act almost anyone could predict the outcome, the exact details of which are incidental and tend toward the tedious. While such simplicity might sink a higher-aiming endeavor, it has to be recognized that there is an audience for just such utterly safe-world material. And for them, the really great news is that a sequel is in the making.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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John Corbett and Nia Vardalos, the happy couple.

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