I hadn’t actually intended to watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) so soon after the dreadful spin-off sitcom… but then I saw the DVD going cheap in a charity shop, and figured I may as well pick it up. I’m not sure what the best order to watch them both in would be… I assume most critics would recommend that you watch the movie first, and the sitcom when Hell freezes over… but I think it’s fascinating (and a little horrifying) to see how severely dumbed down the series was by comparison. I’m not saying that the movie was solid-gold genius either, but it had far more heart and soul and humour than was evident anywhere in its supposed “sequel”. The characters all had far more depth to them too, and the loud, warm, eccentric Greek family was nicely balanced by the rather cold, stand-offish WASPs… so both sides were being satirised, to some extent… whereas the sitcom was just wall-to-wall with loud wackiness. Vardalos also gave a much more subdued performance in the lead role here, although I’m still not sure I’ve really seen the best of her, since this was basically an “ensemble” piece, and there was a lot of compression going on, as far as her character arc went. Maybe the story would have been better off being told as a mini-series? And by “better”, I guess I mean “less profitably”. Ho ho. Considering the fact that Nia Vardalos was both the screenwriter and star, it’s to her credit that she lets the supporting characters steal so many scenes… either by telling hilariously freakish anecdotes (in Andrea Martin’s case), or by inappropriately adjusting their cleavage (in Gia Carides’s case).
Oh, and I thought the flashbacks also worked a lot better here, because some actual time and effort had been put into making the father look younger… although, even allowing for artistic/comic licence, I find it a little hard to believe that there are many schools in America with only one brunette girl for every ten blondes. Sweden maybe, but America? I can understand why the adolescent heroines in films like this one and Anita & Me might be fascinated by their fair-haired classmates, but as an avid admirer of dark hair and “ethnic” features, I can’t help finding this recurring theme rather frustrating.
A number of cast members and critics have commented on how a lot of people can relate to the extended family depicted in the movie, regardless of their ethnicity or nationality… and I think that’s certainly borne out by the huge success of films like this one and Bend It Like Beckham… but my own immediate family is very small, and rather emotionally distant, so it’s all quite unfamiliar to me. I only ever see my cousins at funerals, and even then we just make vague small-talk about how we only ever see each other at funerals. I certainly couldn’t tell you what their surnames were, or what they did for a living, let alone the intimate specifics of their personal lives. I’m not sure how I’d function if I was ever thrown into the sort of social gatherings depicted here… most likely I’d revert to my default “wallflower” setting, while secretly wishing I could work up the courage to dance. So there’s definitely a sort of aspirational appeal to watching John Corbett’s character being brought out of his shell by the more extroverted members of his new family… although at this point the only characteristic that Mr. Corbett and I have in common is hair-length. Dammit!
Despite the slight Vardalos-overkill this week, I’m still interested in seeing more of her, because I think she’s incredibly likeable and believable on screen, even if the reviews for her subsequent productions make me wonder if she’ll ever find the perfect showcase for her talents, in front of and behind the camera. At this point, her best shot might be to kidnap Tina Fey, and then try to take her place on 30 Rock…