by Brian McKay
Having been told by at least ten people how funny and endearing this chick-flick phenomenon is (nine of those people being chicks, of course), I decided to check it out for myself and see what the $241 million dollars domestic fuss was all about. Now I kind of understand . . . and I sort of don’t.I do see the reasons why this became such a hit. After all, the rom-com crowd must be starving for something beyond the slew of godawful Maid in Manhattan for a View from the Top of a Boat Trip in Ten Days type films that have been shoved down our collective throats. In that respect, MBFGW delivers a more clever rom-com along the lines of Bridget Jones’ Diary or Next Stop, Wonderland. Written by star Nia Vardalos, it is an almost autobiographical look at her experiences of growing up with a loud, obnoxious, eccentric, but mostly likeable Greek family.
"Like my family gatherings – fun for an hour, but then I want the hell out!"
Vardalos plays Toula, a frumpy 30 year old spinster who still lives with her parents and wants something more out of life than what the rigid confines of her traditional Greek upbringing dictate – which is to “Marry a nice Greek boy, have lots of Greek babies, and feed everyone until we die” (wait a minute . . . Greeks? Is she sure she’s not talking about Mormons?). She decides to transform herself from frump-worthy to hump-worthy by ditching the glasses, doing her hair and makeup, putting on some more flattering clothes, and taking classes at the local community college. On the heels of this female empowerment, an affable and handsome high school English teacher named Ian (John Corbett) comes strolling into her life and sweeps her off of her feet. There’s just one problem – he may be a very nice boy, but he ain’t Greek!
Toula tries to keep her burgeoning romance with Ian on the down low, but eventually the family finds out and she gets busted anyway. They try to sway her away from Ian by setting her up with a string of ridiculous suitors, but of course she is not to be dissuaded. So when Ian proposes marriage, and she says yes, the family must learn to accept Ian, and vice-versa. After that, it’s pretty much a case of “Toula tries to get through the wedding with her sanity intact while dealing with her big, loud, obnoxious, meddling, but loveable family”. Love and tolerance eventually conquers all, everyone happy, the end. As if it could turn out any other way.
So yes, it’s pretty predictable and innocuous Rom-Com fare, but it definitely has its charms. Nia Vardalos is not a great actress, but she is a likeable one. She’s not some A-list super-hot babe with a rock-hard body – and that’s why the film works. Toula is not hot, but she is attractive. She’s a big girl, but the curves still go in and out in all the right places. She’s got a bit of a hook nose and a goofy, cross-eyed look, but she’s also got a terrific smile that lights up a room. Like one of my favorite actresses, Hope Davis, she does frumpy pretty good, but she cleans up even better and pulls off that “moth to butterfly” transformation in a way that some mega-hot chick merely sporting a pair of thick glasses and a bad haircut can’t. She’s half of what really makes the film work. The other half is John Corbett.
Now, let me say something about Corbett. This is a guy who has grown exactly zero percent as an actor in the past ten years. He’s playing the same easy-going, laid back, likeable everyman with a philosophic bent that he’s been playing in nearly every goddamn role that he’s been in since his stint as the existentialist disc jockey Chris on Northern Exposure. He’s a one-trick pony – but I love the trick every time he pulls it! Whenever you need an instantly likeable and mellowly charismatic character, John Corbett will never steer you wrong. (Hell, I like him so much, I’ll even give him a quick, free plug – be sure and try out his new show Lucky on the FX network in April of ’03). As Ian, he brings a genuine chemistry with Vardalos into the mix. Although you know he’s often thinking “What in the name of God have I gotten myself into” when in the presence of Toula’s family, he never once doubts that he really loves her, and neither does the viewer. He even goes so far as to be baptized into the Greek Orthodox church for her (in the single most hilarious scene of the film). Now, if that ain’t love, I don’t know what is.
As for the rest of the cast, they all do well enough with what they have to work with – which is mostly a bunch of oddball characters that seem highly stereotypical to me, but which anyone with Greek friends or relatives will tell you is dead-on. Whether the stereotypes are accurate or not, they become no less tiresome or grating after the 60 minute mark. Yes, these oddball people are funny and likeable, but in small servings. While most of them are walking caricatures, there are a few standout performances. Louis Mandylor plays Toula’s lothario kid brother, Nicky, and adds some nice touches as the loving and protective brother who shows Ian his acceptance by playing a series of amusing practical jokes on him. Also, Andrea Martin has some hysterical moments as the loud and opinionated Aunt Voula.It’s a cute premise, but one that has really been done before and is stretched thin in order to fill its standard 90 minute rom-com running time. But for at least half of those ninety minutes, it will charm and amuse you. Naturally, it’s being churned out into a fall 2003 sitcom as I write this review, although I doubt it will make it past the first season with the absence of Corbett and the already exhausted source material. File this one under “Watch it, like it, fuhgeddaboutit”. Unlike my own family, at least I won’t feel obligated to revisit Toula’s on the holidays.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5878&reviewer=258
originally posted: 03/24/03 09:08:40