It’s intriguing to note that despite My Big Fat Greek Wedding still boasting the title of the “highest grossing romantic comedy,” like most romantic comedies, the impact this left on pop culture as a whole was slight and almost unrecognizable; similar to James Cameron’s Avatar, still the highest grossing film worldwide, yet a film that sparks nothing but opinions that go against what people initially thought of the film. If My Big Fat Greek Wedding doesn’t speak volumes about the genre of romantic comedies, I’m not sure what does.
It’s not necessarily that My Big Fat Greek Wedding is forgettable, but even worse, it kind of is what it is; a one-note joke or a Saturday Night Live skit stretched out to feature-length. The result is a film that incites a few smiles, chuckles, and an interesting indie sleeper hit story, but nothing more. Couple these features with the fact that this film’s ending is just about the most unsurprising and corniest ending about family, acceptance, and difference I’ve yet to see in film, and you have a romantic comedy that really can’t measure up to its level of monetary success by proving its much different than its less-impacting counterparts.
The film revolves around Fotoula “Toula” Portokalos (Nia Vardalos), a quirky Greek woman in the middle of a fierce midlife crisis. At thirty, she is unmarried and ostracized by her parents Gus and Maria (Michael Constantine and Lainie Kazan) for failing to find a man and become a “baby machine” like her older sister Athena (Stravroula Logothettis) to further give her parents purpose in their elderly years. Toula states early on in the film that the three prime expectations of Greek women are to marry a Greek boy, make Greek babies, and “feed everyone until the day she dies.”
Toula’s parents are traditionalist Greeks in the sense that they wet guests’ faces with kisses when they walk through the door, overstuff their guests with food, and, specifically Gus, try to cure every human ailment with Windex. Because of that, they seem to believe that all other people who aren’t Greeks are secretly in denial of their heritage and wish they were Greeks. The family is in for a culture shock, however, when Toula meets and falls madly in love with Ian Miller (John Corbett), a handsome and kind school teacher, who just so happens to be non-Greek and lack any kind of discernible heritage, typical for many people who are fourth or fifth generation immigrants where culture is subsequently lost in the shuffle of assimilation.
Regardless, the state of the family is sent into a dramatic tailspin by Toula’s traditionalist parents, who can’t see how this man is capable of anything without having a Greek background. The film becomes a story of Gus and Maria needing to accept their daughter’s newfound beau, in addition to a story about Ian learning to accept Toula’s parents for their very conservative and sometimes narcissistic view of their own heritage.
The result is a film predicated off of lampooning, satirizing, and overblowing common conventions of Greek people, none of which so much as negative or harmfully stereotypical as much as they are pretty simple-minded and predictable. Having said that, the actors and actresses on hand make My Big Fat Greek Wedding the moderately enjoyable experience that it is, particularly Vardalos, who throws herself into the autobiographical tale of meeting her husband getting the respect that both her and him deserved. Before the big screen, which consisted of little else besides a $5 million budget from IFC Films and studio executives crossing their fingers that word of mouth would carry this picture, Vardalos conducted this project as a stage-play, in a manner that recalls the zealous energy exhibited by Tyler Perry to get noticed in the public eye. Assisted by a cast of spirited performers, particularly Michael Constantine, who knows how to tight-rope walk the fine line of overacting and emphatically portraying a brazen archetype of a character, Vardalos and her screenplay really cannot lose in the acting department.
The problem, I suppose, with My Big Fat Greek Wedding is just how simple of a film it is. When you find out the film is largely about changing peoples’ prejudices, which, to be fair, aren’t really harmful in an explicit or predatory sense and more-or-less exist as the kind of impulsive small talk families create over Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner, the conflict really becomes silly at best. While this kind of friction definitely exists, there are more compelling stories to be told about a lack of acceptance in a family and this film, with its dramatic depictions that ultimately wind up conveying a silly sense of screwball comedy, get rather repetitive after a while and one is left trying to rest the weight of the film’s quality on the shoulders of the performers, which isn’t entirely fair for a comedy.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the perfect “rainy Sunday” film in that it’s simple enough where you could watch it over and over again and not get tired of it thanks to its generally upbeat and silly nature; a feel-good film, if you will, despite the fact that lead character is often made to feel bad. One could say it oversimplifies the everlasting hell out of Greeks and Greek culture, but circumventing to my point about this film leaving relatively no cultural footprint, I don’t even think you could make such an argument. Save such for a film with an impact outside of the monetary sense.
NOTE: As of this writing, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is streaming on Max.
Starring: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan, and Stravroula Logothettis. Directed by: Joel Zwick.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!