‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2’
Director: Kirk Jones
Stars: Nia Vardalos, Michael Constantine
3 (out of 5) Globes
In 2002 critics and cultural commentators suddenly had to conjure up a reason why a rando indie — some tiny rom-com whose biggest star was either that one boyfriend from “Sex and the City” or “SCTV” goddess Andrea Martin — was improbably making Mel Gibson movie money. (Again, this was 2002.)
The ninth highest grossing film of the year, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was a movie about a wallflower that was a bit of a wallflower itself: a thin, barely-there romance that in the last half hour turned into a plotless wedding movie. It had lots of relatable-if-easy jokes about oversuffocating, specifically ethnic families. But it also had its star-cum-screenwriter Nia Vardalos falling down a lot, just like any bad Hollywood rom-com hero. John Corbett, as the suitor, seemed to have a permanently aloof smile that screamed a happy “whatever.” Its most long-lasting gag involved Windex.
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Vardalos’ wafer-thin career since would seem to vindicate those who long ago cried foul. And yet this mega-belated sequel is affable enough to make detractors mistrust their memory of the first. Or maybe we’re softening with age, the way some people in their 30s start to like Phil Collins. Or perhaps it is really an improvement, even as it goes out of its way to repeat at least some of the bits that made the first a leftfield blockbuster.
Indeed, it only takes two shots post-opening credits to get to a big, graphic close-up of a bottle of Windex. It’s not the only gag that gets a callback or an update; to the endless roster of things stubborn but lovable dad Gus (Michael Constantine) claims come from the Greeks, you can add Facebook, because of course you can. Vardalos isn’t trying to challenge or discomfort fans of the first. This is a nice movie, a pleasant movie, bringing back old favorite characters who’ve been lying dormant since not just the first, but also the quickly-aborted TV show “My Big Fat Greek Life” no one watched.
And yet there’s a foundation that’s stronger than the mere ugly duckling arc that barely fueled the first. It’s not just that 14 years have passed; it’s that everyone’s older and even more disappointed with life. When last we saw Vardalos’ Toula, she was ready to live happily ever after. She’s still married to Corbett’s dreamy space cadet Ian, but the passion is barely there. Moreover, their flustered teen daughter (Elena Kampouris) is taking to her overbearing fam worse than Toula did, threatening to jump ship from the Chicago burbs to NYU. (Vardalos actually sets this 17 years after the original, which we guess means it takes place in 2019.)
Vardalos has deeper anxieties to work through here — so it’s partly a shame but partly a relief that she’s made a sequel that’s more about the more entertaining other family members than Toula. Even the wedding this time is more goofy than romantic. Turns out Toula’s parents (Constantine and Lainie Kazan) were technically never married. Their kitschy wedding, featuring tons of bickering and dad being a stick-in-the-mud, is an improvement over the first, in part because that means more time for the gallery of Felliniesque grotesques to pile into cramped frames, babbling madly and ecstatically.
The family members were the best parts of the first, and the second wisely lets them mostly take over, like inmates conquering their asylum. They’re all likable nuts, able to sell even the weakest lines or the lamest set-ups, including one where the entire family shows up at a college fair, oblivious to Toula’s daughter’s fury. Andrea Martin, as Toula’s can-do aunt, has triple the screentime, which can only be a great thing.
In the process Toula’s problems barely register among the enjoyable din. Then again, Vardalos can’t always write deep. She’s a sloppy dramatist with a habit of quickly and arbitrarily resolving conflict. Her gift is for wrangling ensembles of lunatics, who aggravate and delight her in equal measure, which winds up scoring 80 percent of “Greek Wedding 2”’s real estate, as opposed to the 40 percent in the first. There’s a genuine affection here for people who still manage to partly destroy Toula’s life, and that’s enough to smooth over any warmed-over gag, including one about old people trying to use Internet Explorer.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge