Note: For those simply interested in the review, this can be found towards the end of the article.
- Director – Kirk Jones
- Starring – Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine
- Writer – Nina Vardalos
- Year – 2016
- Running Time – 94 mins
In 2004, I took the first big step in any serious relationship, meeting my partner’s parents. I had done this a couple of times before, but never had someone insisted that before I did, that I sit down and watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding. However, this was exactly what my wife to be did and she made it clear, this wasn’t a suggestion, this was mandatory viewing. While her family were Italian, and not Greek, she explained her family dynamics were worryingly similar and in the spirit of due diligence, she felt it was only fair for me to be prepared for the almost certain inquisition, sorry I mean welcome, that awaited me 12,000 miles away in Australia. She would also understand that if after watching the film, I decided to not take the flight…..
I duly took the task on and sitting in a damp South London flat as the final credits rolled, what struck me most about the film was that when you stripped away all the bluster, was that family, loyalty and respect were at the heart of the story. I was intrigued and a little apprehensive, especially considering the same themes were prevalent in the Godfather films, but of course it never crossed my mind to not go. Therefore, it was with a touch of trepidation that I boarded my London to Sydney flight, to meet my own Italian versions of Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan).
Well she wasn’t wrong. After touching down what seemed like days later in Sydney we arrived at her parent’s house, which while not quite as ‘patriotic’ as Gus and Maria’s home, it was inescapably Italian. As it was still early and we were horribly jet-lagged, welcomes were warm, but brief, and we were hurried inside to grab a few hours sleep.
Some time later (I still to this day have no real idea how long), I was awoken by sounds through the wall of what seemed like the most bitter family feud I had ever heard. Looking around my wife was nowhere to be seen, though she could certainly be heard. Amidst the chorus of voices bombarding me through the walls, I was able to identify hers, though not quite at the tone or volume I was used to. Now, her usual dulcet tones were amplified up to ten and she was clearly holding her own in the middle of a screaming match with her parents.
As I sat there contemplating that grey day back in Blighty and my wife’s warning words, it did occur to me, ‘what the hell I am doing here’. Luckily though I was suddenly snapped back to reality by my wife opening the bedroom door looking radiant and full of smiles, and I realised at that point why so many people think she looks like a cross between Toula (Nia Vardalous) and Julia Louis-Dreyfrus. She took one look at my confusion expression and we launched into the following exchange:
Wife: Oh good you are up, are you ready to meet everyone?
Me: Absolutely not, I’m not going out there, it sounds like you are in the middle of a huge family row – what’s happened, is everything alright?
Wife: Oh nothing, nothing at all, everything is fine, we were just catching up.
Me: But, but, but, the shouting, the screaming……
Wife: That’s ok, its just how we talk to each other. Come on, it will be fine, they are looking forward to meeting you…….
In the end the homework, while helpful, was not strictly necessary as I was welcomed quickly, warmly and above all enthusiastically into the family. However, there were similarities and over the next two weeks there were numerous flashbacks to scenes from the film which at times seemed to be playing out in front of my eyes. Though like the film, these moments, while culturally comedic in places, were always underscored by deep affection, not just for each other but also the Italian culture which was, quite rightly, deeply ingrained and a source of real pride.
Throughout the next two weeks there many moments of cultural confusion and a number of bizarre conversations with my future Gus where I was called to account for numerous alleged issues he had with my home country and government. Most notably, it seemed these centred around the exorbitant price of pizza at Heathrow Airport, which really seem to have struck a nerve as this came up an awful a lot. To be fair though, he did have a point, the prices were shocking.
Coming from a relatively reserved English background, it took me a little while to come to terms with the widely divergent emotions which were constantly on display. It was a fascinating experience as it quickly became apparent that what at first to me felt confronting, was in fact the opposite. I had never really experienced such passion, often over the smallest details, but it was passion which ran through the heart of my new family. Issues were raised, quickly dealt with and people moved on. Nothing was ever left unsaid. This was refreshing.
By the end of the loudest fortnight I had ever experienced, I felt honoured that they seemed to have accepted me into their home, family and culture While never explicitly stated, I knew it was looking good when one evening during dinner, while my children’s future Nonna was inexplicably making more food, I felt a swift snap across the back of my head and a sharp order to ‘mangiare!’, as another fried egg landed on my plate. This, ladies and gentlemen, was my seal of approval.
12 years later and our cultural union continues and our respective families and cultures have combined, our children speak Italian and I understand enough to know when they are plotting against me. Much like Ian Miller (John Corbett) in my Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, this union now feels natural to me and thoughts rarely return to my wife’s warning, except when my parents visit from the UK and I am reminded how much they act like Harriet (Fiona Reid) and Rodney Miller (Bruce Gray) in the midst of what can be at times, a cultural overload.
When the family is together I still probably only have on a good day, about 10% understanding of what is going on at any given time. This is manageable though, as I have mastered the art of when a table of raucous Neapolitan conversation suddenly stops and everyone turns to look at me, to know this is my cue to briefly say something charming and in my best British accent, before the conversation and never ending food continues on around me.
And I think it is this food which has taught me the most. At first I found it perplexing and the amounts unnecessary, however now I appreciate it for what it is, perhaps the most genuine method of letting someone know that you care, they are welcome and can stay as long as they like. Food and family are central to Italian culture and even though I have sat around many dinner tables in small Southern Italian villages, with no idea what is going on around me, I have always felt accepted, welcomed and part of the family.
Due to this history, my wife almost burst with excitement when the trailer for the sequel dropped, quite seemingly out of nowhere. Babysitters were swiftly arranged and we were there opening weekend.
This time around we catch up with Toula and Ian the best part of two decades after the original wedding, living uncomfortably close to their extended family, with their daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris) finishing high school and considering college applications. In a peculiar twist and due to a clerical oversight, it appears as if Gus and Maria were never officially married, therefore the family reunites to throw another Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Sadly, this sequel will not be quite as historically relevant to us as the original. Time has moved on for both the audience and within the narrative, though frustratingly this is not reflected in the characters, who appear to have either stood still for the last 14 years, or in some cases, most notably with Toula who feels very under-written, have in fact regressed.
Without the introduction of the daughter’s journey then we could simply have picked up where the last film finished off. And it is a shame that Nia Vardalos’s script didn’t focus more on Paris, as this sub-plot felt like an updated, relevant and fresh story line worthy of a sequel. However, all too quickly the film descends into a simple retread of the original, though this time with Gus and Maria centre stage, which dilutes the tenderness of the original and relies too heavily on stereotypical comedic beats.
Thankfully though fans will still find moments to enjoy, especially as Varadalos and Corbett retain their easy chemistry and bring heart to proceedings which occasionally feels like it has lost its own in pursuit of too many unnecessary subplots and cheap out of character laughs.
For us though, none of this really mattered. Seeing the sequel and how it mirrored aspects of our own life, was a joyous experience on its own. It was a timely reminder of our own personal journey and how lucky we have been to bring our two disparate cultures together and still be talking after all this time.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is fun for what it is, an opportunity to check in on where the Greek family we all fell in love with in 2002 are now. Even though it never comes close to the charms of the original, they are genuine moments of emotion to be found and indeed worth waiting for.
If nothing else it will make you want to watch the original again, which on its own is no bad thing, though it is a real shame the onscreen family has not grown as much as those in the audience watching them.
★★ for the film.
★★★★★ for the memories.
Review by Will Malone