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A Cultural Clash in 'Greek Wedding'

Movie Review

April 19, 2002|GENE SEYMOUR | NEWSDAY

There's not a lot of voice-over narration in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." But what little there is convinces you that the original stage monologue by Nia Vardalos would have been a hoot to hear. You don't have to be Greek to chuckle at the affectionate jabs Vardalos aims at her loving, smothering family.

Little wonder that Tom Hanks and his Greek-born actress wife, Rita Wilson, loved it enough to co-produce (with Gary Goetzman) a filmed adaptation, written by Vardalos and set not in her native Canada but in Chicago.

That's not a problem, but there are, alas, others with a movie that's about as overbearing and over-the-top as the family it depicts.

It's not surprising that Vardalos' story has become an elongated domestic sitcom since it's directed by Joel Zwick, whose resume includes such go-for-the-gut TV fare as "Laverne & Shirley," "Full House" and "Family Matters." What is surprising is how clunky and wobbly it looks even with the talent involved both in front of and behind the cameras. Some folks--including, perhaps, Vardalos herself--apparently decided that the only way to open up the monologue and serve it to the masses was as an urban fairy tale with ham fists and thick shtick.

Which proves a disservice, most notably, to Vardalos the actress, who for at least most of the first couple of acts is touching and sweetly affecting as her fictional alter-ego Toula Portokalos, thirtysomething, unmarried and apparently quite willing to spend the rest of her days as a drab, nondescript waitress for her family's restaurant, Dancing Zorba's.

It seems to her a finer destiny than the one mapped out by her crusty old-school father, Gus (Michael Constantine): Find any Greek man, make babies and feed everybody. (Gus, by the way, has these funny little tics of using Windex for medicinal purposes and of claiming Greek origins for every single word, even Japanese ones. As with a lot of the riffs in this film, it's funnier the first or second time than it is the seventh or 12th.)

One afternoon, the proverbial handsome prince--a WASP-ish college instructor named Ian (John Corbett, essentially playing the same laid-back heartthrob as he did in "Sex and the City") shows up at the restaurant and gives Toula reasons to shed her moldy reserve and go off on her own. Eventually, improbably, Toula and Ian reconnect, fall in love and become engaged. Thus begins a noisy, cumbersome build-up to the wedding, throughout which you stumble over cheap jokes at the expense of both Toula's family and Ian's. Even Richard Pryor would think his parents are portrayed as a little too white-bread prim. All told, this is going to make passable television. Eventually.

MPAA rating: PG, for sensuality and language. Times guidelines: Some risque humor, mild vulgarities.

'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'

Nia Vardalos... Toula Portokalos

John Corbett... Ian Miller

Michael Constantine... Gus Portokalos

Lainie Kazan... Maria Portokalos

Andrea Martin... Aunt Voula

Joey Fatone... Angelo

Gold Circle Films presents, in association with Home Box Office and MPH Entertainment, a Playtone Picture, released by IFC Films. Director Joel Zwick. Producers Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman. Executive producers Norm Watts, Paul Brooks, Steven Shareshian. Screenplay by Nia Vardalos. Cinematographer Jeffrey Jur. Editor Mia Goldman. Costume designer Michael Clancy. Music Chris Wilson, Alexander Janko. Production designer Gregory Keen. Art director Kei Ng. Set decorator Enrico Campana. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

In general release.

Gene Seymour writes about film for Newsday, a Tribune company.

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