A "10th Anniversary Special Edition" seemed like as good a time as any to catch up with a movie I'd always heard positive things about, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002). It pretty much defines the term "sleeper hit," and the Cinderella story behind the film is at least as interesting as the movie itself. Writer-star Nia Vardalos says she had trouble finding work as an actress in Hollywood because casting agents didn't know how to sell her classically Greek features. In response, she wrote a one-woman show adapted from anecdotes she'd tell about her very traditional, proud Greek family, and staged it in Los Angeles. There actress Rita Wilson saw and loved the play, got husband Tom Hanks to see it the next night, and together they co-produced the film adaptation with Vardalos in the lead. It was a critical success and commercial smash. On a modest budget of around $5 million it eventually grossed nearly $370 million worldwide, a 6,150% return. (Souring all this success was some brazenly creative Hollywood accounting on the part of co-producer Gold Circle Films, which claimed My Big Fat Greek Wedding actually lost $20 million. Yeah, right.)
The film isn't the greatest thing since sliced pita but by the end it had won me over. It's predictable and obvious much of the time, setting up a lot of okay running gags but also spending too much time on an inevitable romance presaging the wedding. But once preparations for the wedding of the title get underway, the film becomes warm, funny, and fast-paced. The Blu-ray offers a new 30-minute retrospective interview with Vardalos and co-star John Corbett, along with a collection of deleted scenes and an older audio commentary track, while the region A Blu-ray looks and sounds quite nice.
The title says it all, and to Vardalos's credit, the screenplay gratefully avoids setting up a lot of phony suspense about whether Fotoula "Toula" Portokalos's (Vardalos) wedding to Waspish Ian Miller (Corbett) will actually happen. However, to get there the picture's early scenes are cluttered with an unnecessary "ugly duck-into-swan" first act the movie doesn't really need.
Plain Jane Toula is stuck in a dead-end job, working as hostess at her family's restaurant, Dancing Zorba's. After a love-at-first-sight encounter there with customer Ian, Toula decides to better her life by taking computer classes at a local college, going to work at her Aunt Voula's (Andrea Martin) travel agency, as well as abandoning her frumpy Old Maid look, transforming herself into the bright, sunny young woman flowering from within. Ian reenters her life and the two are almost instantly, passionately in love. But there's a problem: Toula's family has always expected her to marry a Greek-American.
I was enthusiastic going in, disappointed with the film's first third, but then found myself sucked back into its characters and situations and quite enjoyed it by the end.
A big part of the reason is Nia Vardalos herself, who possesses a winning personality and whose semi-autobiographical screenplay captures the proud, traditional, quirky, immigrant family experience quite well. My only other complaint is that Corbett and his character are too conventionally handsome and almost too good to be true, though Vardalos's husband apparently is like this, though he lacks Corbett's chick-flick ideal.
A very wise decision, partly budget-driven, was the use of less famous but authentically Greek or Levantine actors in the supporting roles. Michael Constantine, as Toula's father, is the son of Greek immigrants; Lainie Kazan, as Toula's mother, is half-Turkish; Andrea Martin's Armenian family had roots in Turkey as well.
All three are excellent, and Constantine was robbed not getting an Academy Award nomination (at least). He's hilarious, like a Greek Tevye, so proud of his heritage that he insists all words have Greek roots, even things like "kimono." He regards Windex as an all-powerful miracle drug, spraying it on everything: rashes, burns, etc., and his observations are wryly funny. Talking about Ian's stiff and stuffy (overly so) country club parents, he says, "That family is like a piece of toast!"
Kazan and Martin also have their share of memorable dialogue. When Ian tries to explain that he's a vegetarian, Martin's Aunt Voula replies, "You don't eat meat!? That's okay. I make lamb." And in a deadly serious monologue as hilarious as anything she did on SCTV, Voula describes a lump on her neck she's convinced contains the teeth and spinal column of an unformed twin.
Everything in My Big Fat Greek Wedding is exaggerated for comic effect - half of the men are named Nick, for instance - but as someone whose next-door neighbors in suburban Detroit were Greek, I can vouch for the film's verisimilitude. (The father of that family was a baker in Detroit's Greektown. How I miss the smell of that bread!)
Video & Audio
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a Region A disc that also includes a DVD copy of the film along with access to a digital copy for Macs, PCs, iPads, etc. via an online address and passcode. The Blu-ray, in 1.78:1 full frame and thus approximating its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, looks and sounds fine, up to contemporary video and audio standards. Spanish DTS Digital Surround, and subtitle options in English (SDH), French, Spanish, and (naturally) Greek accompany the English 5.1 DTS-Master Audio.
"A Look Back at 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'" is a 30-minute retrospective in high-def that intersperses a new interview with Vardalos and Corbett with outtakes and archival interview footage with others, including Hanks and Wilson. It's pretty entertaining, and summarizes most of what's also found in the 2002 audio commentary track with Vardalos, Corbett, and director Joel Zwick. Deleted scenes are also included.
A pleasant viewing experience and a good date movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.