THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


People often ask me what I look for in a movie. My answer is always the same: I just want to be entertained. In a way, though, that's a disingenuous answer because the truth is that movies are entertaining for different reasons. I enjoy some because they provide lightweight entertainment that is fun and relaxing to watch. I enjoy others because they stimulate me intellectually. And still others I like because they impact me emotionally or make me feel good. My Big Fat Greek Wedding falls into this last category. There's nothing new in this story, yet it's done so well that I couldn't help leaving the theater smiling.

The film is based on a stage play written by Nia Vardalos, who also stars as Toula Portokalos. The character is about thirty years old and, quite frankly, she defines "frumpy". Toula is a member of a large, eccentric Greek family. Her relatives all believe that Greek women have three purposes in life: to get married, to make Greek babies, and to feed everybody. The family laments the fact that Toula has never taken a husband. They constantly tell her that she is "so old" that it should have happened by now.

John Corbett and Nia Vardalos tie the knot in My Big Fat Greek Wedding
One day, a handsome stranger enters the family restaurant where Toula is a waitress. She is immediately drawn to him, but does nothing about it. Meanwhile, she gathers up the courage to get a makeover and start classes at a local college, against the wishes of her tradition-minded father. A short time later, she bumps into the stranger, Ian (John Corbett) again. After a third encounter, he asks her out, not initially realizing she had waited on him at the restaurant. Ian and Toula fall in love, but her family is appalled to find out she's dating a non-Greek. The situation boils over when Ian pops the question. Suddenly, the family must learn to accept him. Ian tries to soothe things over by becoming baptized in the Greek Orthodox church. As the wedding approaches, everyone in the family feels perfectly comfortable putting in their two cents as to how things should go. It's almost like a trade-off: you can marry this guy, but you have to do it our way.

There have been other romantic comedies centered around the clash between American dating rituals and those observed by other ethnicities. I've seen this plot done before with families that were Italian, Jewish, and Indian. (This last example, an indie flick called Chutney Popcorn, was particularly interesting because it also incorporated homosexuality into the mix.)

But as I've said in other reviews, just because it was done before doesn't mean it can't be done well again. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a real charmer, filled with characters who are likable and funny. My favorite character is Toula's father Gus (Michael Constantine), who believes that Windex will cure anything. Toula's aunt Voula (Andrea Martin) also gets some laughs. She's one of those over-the-top dramatic types who make a big production out of everything. Verdalos and Corbett are winning, too. Their romance is unconventional, but we know it is real because of the sacrifices they make for one another. She deals with the grief her family gives her, while he works overtime to respect their cultural traditions. This is a story about two people who are willing to overcome the obstacles together. How can that not make you feel good inside?

The screenplay is witty and sweet, and the direction by Joel Zwick finds just the right tone. Like I said, this is not groundbreaking cinema by any stretch of the imagination, but it does put a smile on your face, and that's a perfectly good reason to go see a movie. The word "nice" has become something of an insult in recent years, but I mean it only in the best sense when I say that My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a really nice movie.

( out of four)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is rated PG for sensuality and language. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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