Despite the title, you don't have to be Greek or in the midst of planning nuptials in order to enjoy "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", a little $5 million film that has become a sleeper hit over the past few months. The brain child of Chicago stand-up comic Nia Vardalos (who also stars in the lead role) and ably directed by Joel Zwick in his feature film debut, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" cuts across cultural lines with its broad humor and the fundamental truths it skewers in the areas of love, marriage, and strategies for coping with one's parents.
At the start of the film, heroine Toula Portokalos (Vardalos) is the 'ugly duckling' of her family-- thirty years old, homely looking, and worst of all, unmarried (as her father so succinctly puts it, "You should get married... you're starting to look old!"). She spends her days working in the family restaurant, Dancing Zorba's, working alongside her strict and 'proud to be Greek' father Gus (Michael Constantine of "Thinner") and her understanding mother Maria (Lanie Kazan of "The Big Hit"). Unfortunately, the prospect of marriage is hardly appealing for Toula-- as the way she sees it, the key responsibilities of every Greek woman are to marry a nice Greek boy, make Greek babies, and feed everyone until they drop dead. Definitely a life that she wants no part of, thank you.
However, when Toula gets a chance to go back to school to study computers, she grabs the opportunity by the horns, and in doing so, blossoms in a truly independent and attractive woman. In addition, she crosses paths with Ian Miller (John Corbett, seen recently in "Serendipity"), who is a vegetarian and non-Greek. Despite their differing backgrounds, they both fall hopelessly in love with one another and eventually decide to marry. This creates much consternation for Gus, who would rather have his daughter marry someone Greek, instead of Ian and his 'toasty' family. Alas, Gus is unable to change his daughter's mind, and he begrudgingly moves onto the next step-- planning a big fat Greek wedding, which introduces a whole new world of pain for the couple-to-be.
Perhaps one of the reasons why many moviegoers find "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" so appealing, despite the ethnic focus on Greek culture, is the universality of what is being mocked, a quality shared by other similar films, such as "Double Happiness", "East is East", or even "Fiddler on the Roof". Whether you are Jewish, Chinese, Indian, or as 'white bread' as Ian's parents, it is easy to understand and relate to Toula's experience, such as not fitting in with the other girls at school, having to spend weekends in 'Greek school', the tug-of-war between the traditions of parents and the more contemporary leanings of their children, and, of course, the headaches of planning a wedding.
It also doesn't hurt that "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" scores pretty high for humor, with Vardalos' script mining every absurd situation and character quirk for the most laughs possible. Among the more memorable gags include Gus' penchants for showing how every word in the English language (even 'kimono') is Greek in origin and using Windex as a cure-all for every sort of skin affliction, some physical (not to mention painful) comedy when Toula and Ian first gaze into one another's eyes, the baptism scene, and the 'Greek lessons' that Toula's brother Nick (Louis Mandylor of TV's "Martial Law") gives to Ian.
Supporting such glib material is a first-rate cast. As the lead, Vardalos displays great comic timing and a great handle on the material (after all, she wrote it), and her transformation from wallflower to a full-fledged woman is credibly handled. She also shares good chemistry with Corbett, whose earnest and easygoing portrayal of the groom-to-be is perfect. As the parents, Constantine and Kazan are a lot of fun to watch, though they are only second best to Canadian Second City alumnus Andrea Martin ("Wag the Dog"), who frequently steals scenes with her witty turn as Aunt Voula. Also lending support are 'NSYNC's Joey Fatone and the buxom Gia Carides of "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" as Toula's squabbling cousins, as well as Bruce Gray ("Starship Troopers") and Fiona Reid as Ian's very quiet parents.
How "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" made its way to the big screen is as much a fairy tale as the film's story itself. It started as a one-woman stage play put on by Vardalos, an alumnus of the Chicago Second City. Amongst the audience at one of her shows was Rita Wilson, the wife of actor Tom Hanks ("Cast Away"). Wilson, who was impressed with what she saw, convinced her husband to go see it. This resulted in Vardalos submitting a film script based on her one-man show, and Hanks' production company, Playtone Pictures, picking up the production costs. As a result of the runaway success of the film, which is expected to crack the $100 million at the domestic box office soon, Vardalos has been inundated with offers, including a greenlight for a sequel (purportedly to take place in Greece) and a proposal to turn the film into a weekly television series. Such success is well deserved, as "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" will certainly count among my top ten picks for 2002. With its well-rounded mix of romance, comedy, and universal truths, this is one ceremony you'll want to RSVP for... and soon.