Rated PG - Running Time: 1:36 - Released 8/16/02

Ah, those Greeks, those quirky, ethnic, hilarious orthodox Greeks. They are the salt of the Earth, the honey in your baklava, the Jews of Catholicism. At least that's the way they're portrayed in Joel Zwick's My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a hilarious and heartwarming romantic comedy written by and starring Nia Vardalos, who has apparently based the story on her own life. Essaying the tumultuous and undoubtedly trying experience of attempting to marry outside the faith in a devoutly nationalistic ethnic family, the movie started out as a one-woman play and was seen by Rita Wilson (a.k.a. Mrs. Tom Hanks), who convinced her husband to produce it as a film. What a wise choice. Brimming with good performances, none better than Vardalos's own, the film captures the oppressive nature of the exclusive family situation and then shows the consequences of the main character's attempt to break out of the traditional mold, while maintaining a nice cinematic eye and a wonderful, subtle touch with the writer's self-effacing humor. Not everything is perfect about this movie, but every wedding has a few glitches, right?

We first meet Toula Portokalos (Vardalos) as an unmarried 30-year-old hostess in her parents' Chicago restaurant, Dancing Zorba's. With a voiceover that is read more like a writer reading than a person who experienced it first hand, she takes us through her childhood. Growing up in a house that looks like a museum exhibit displaying the architecture of ancient Athens, she was a black-haired, black-eyed oddity whose exotic lunch delicacies, like moussaka, caused teasing and sniggering among her blonde, whitebread classmates. Still living in that same house at 30, she sums up in three steps her family's idea of a Greek woman's duty: "1) Marry a Greek man, 2) Make Greek babies, and 3) Feed everybody—until the day we die." While she loves them deeply, she feels increasingly constricted by her fiercely proud father Gus (Michael Constantine), who likes to explain how every word has its origins in ancient Greek (he even does it for "kimono"), and mother Maria (Lainie Kazan), who flits around making pastries and gyros for anyone in her immediate vicinity. Finally, she gets up the guts to take a college computer course, which precipitates the traditional movie makeover (suddenly she learns how to use makeup and style her hair, transforming herself from a homely frump into a ravishing beauty) and uses her newfound computer skills to take over her Aunt Voula's (Andrea Martin) travel agency. It is there that she meets Ian Miller (John Corbett), a handsome, literate, vegetarian high school English teacher who is about as non-Greek as they come. Falling in love is easy—the trouble is, how to tell the family.

This movie is like a Greek version of Fiddler On The Roof, and it is about as enjoyable as romantic comedies come, especially if you or someone you know is of Mediterranean descent. It is not just Vardalos's hilarious testimony, or the wide variety of memorable characters that make up her numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins, or the humorously vigorous portrayals of said characters by this talented cast of buxom, black-eyed, olive-skinned women and swarthy, oily-haired, muscular men. It's also Zwick's subtle touch behind the camera, emphasizing the juxtaposition of cultures with amusingly composed shots that start off looking austere and serious and slowly zoom out to reveal some detail showing the absurdity of the situation. My Big Fat Greek Wedding captures the nature of true romance, with just enough slapstick (a Greek invention) to make you laugh out loud. ****½

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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