A BIG FAT FAIRYTALE WEDDING
BY MICHELLE SPIEGELMAN
“I so badly wanted to be like the popular girls,” whines Nia Vardalos -- and so it goes -- the ugly duckling becomes a beautiful swan and lives happily ever after. This story has been told time and again, but just when we thought we couldn’t sit through one more – writer/actress Nia Vardalos surprises us with My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She may hand us a fairytale we know, but it is a modernized version served on a plate with relevant characters, realistic family dilemmas, and laugh-out-loud comedy.
The script, loosely based on her life, is an adaptation from Vardalos’ one-woman comedic act. Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks enjoyed her play so much they helped produce the film. My Big Fat Greek Wedding does not have an innovative plot, but Vardalos tells her story with a twist of wit that will leave audiences with aching sides and daylong smirks.
Fotoula ‘Toula’ Portokalos (Nia Vardalos) and her family -- father Gus (Michael Constantine), mother Maria (Lainie Kazan), older sister Athena, and younger brother Nick, live in the suburbs of Chicago in a home that her proud father modeled after the Greek Parthenon complete with Corinthian columns and guarded by statues of the Gods. Toula’s father believes in two things: Greeks should educate non-Greeks about being Greek, and any ailment from psoriasis to poison ivy can be cured with Windex.
Toula’s father repeatedly tells his thirty-year-old daughter, “You better get married soon. You’re starting to look old.” Toula’s soul purpose, according to her father, is to marry a Greek man, make Greek babies, and feed them all until the day she dies. Toula spends her days and nights working in the family restaurant Dancing Zorba’s, however; she wants to take classes at the nearby college. Unfortunately, her father fails to see why women should be further educated.
Toula’s mother says she’ll talk to her father about college, and she offers this to calm a very upset Toula: “The man is the head [of the family], but the woman is the neck and she can turn the head any way she wants.” Toula begins to take computer classes. And thus her physical and emotional makeover begins. She trades glasses for contacts, dresses in fashionable clothing, curls her hair, applies some makeup, and just like that – a new woman.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s all instrumental soundtrack is not ordinary, for it mostly contains unrecognizable Greek folk music. The folk tunes capture the essence of the film through Toula’s feelings. The beginning of the film houses beats that are shy and hopeful, but as the film plays on the music becomes more upbeat and joyful, as does Toula. Toula’s family get-togethers include dancing, shots of liquor, yelps of “whoopah,” and upbeat tones of the folk music all of which add to the film’s Greek flavor.
On the morning of the wedding, about two dozen of Toula’s female aunts and cousins are helping her prepare for her big day. The women are half-dressed and frantically running around the house in desperate searches for cover-up, nail polish, blow dryers, and shoes; it appears chaotic, but under the surface of its rowdiness is director Joel Zwick leading a well-orchestrated dance of women doing what they are best known to do – “getting ready.”
Zwick sets up many of the scene changes through a window shot, zeroing in on a window and bringing us closer and closer to the action happening inside. Alfred Hitchcock, who thought people loved to be voyeurs, also used similar kinds of window shots.
When Toula starts dating Ian Miller (John Corbett), Zwick uses their romance to spark the audience’s need for voyeurism. At the end of Toula and Ian’s date, we peek in on their goodnight kiss through the dashboard of Ian’s Jeep. Zwick keeps us at window’s distance from the couple, but we get closer with sound; we can hear the squeaky crunches of the leather seats and the heavy breathing of the couple.
After only a few handfuls of dates Ian proposes, and the audience discovers just how irritatingly perfect he is. It seems there is nothing this contemporary Romeo wouldn’t do for Toula. The non-Greek Ian even agrees to be baptized in a kiddie pool in the Greek Orthodox Church so that Toula’s parents can see her married in their church. Zwick constructs a humorous scene coupling a beautifully ornate and serene church with a plastic pool covered in colored fish.
Toula and Ian’s romance is annoyingly perfect in its idealistic flawlessness, but it is a fairytale. Regardless, Vardalos and Corbett are still convincing and perform brilliantly together. It is satisfying to see sexy John Corbett paired up with a more ordinary woman like Vardalos rather than a predictable Hollywood star like Sarah Jessica Parker (Corbett played Parker’s boyfriend in HBO’s Sex and the City).
Vardalos writes the characters of nagging woman, specifically Voula (Andrea Martin) and Maria, so well that the audience can immediately associate them with one’s own family members. “Tell me what to say. But, don’t tell me what to say,” says Voula. “Perfect,” responds Maria. Martin and Kazan shine in their performances: they are persuasive and hysterical in delivering Vardalos’ well-crafted lines.
This movie offers no surprises – it sticks to the ugly duckling story – the-one-day-my-prince-will-come ballyhoo. Beyond that flaw, this movie is entertaining. Vardalos’ use of family humor is what all will love about this movie. My Big Fat Greek Wedding – in all its fairytale flair – will warm the hearts of families everywhere.