This film is a celebration of life steeped in tradition, family, love and just the joy of living; and it invites you to come in and participate in that celebration, rather than leaving you on the outside looking in, as it were, merely as an observer. A film that seemingly welcomes and passionately embraces all that is good and worthwhile in the world, `My Big Fat Greek Wedding,' directed by Joel Zwick, will make you laugh and make you cry, but most importantly, it will make you `feel.' It's one of those rare cinematic experiences that afterwards makes the sky seem bluer, your step a bit lighter and a smile easier to come by; and when a film can do all of that, you know you've come across a bona fide treasure that you're going to hang onto for a long, long time in your memory.
Toula Portokalos (Nia Vardalos) is thirty years old, lives with her parents in Chicago and works in the family restaurant, `Dancing Zorbas.' Every facet of her life is imbued with all things `Greek,' and by proclamation long since issued by her father, Gus (Michael Constantine), Toula is bound by all that is `holy' (read: `Greek') to marry a Greek, live a Greek life and bear many Greek children. For her to even think of doing otherwise would be unfathomable, unthinkable, unimaginable and, well...'UN-Greek.'
So it becomes something of a conundrum for Toula when she meets and becomes interested in a man named Ian Miller (John Corbett), a guy who is decidedly NOT Greek in any way, shape or form. But he asks her out, and one thing leads to another and then another, but before Toula will allow things to get seriously out of hand, meaning `serious,' she knows she must run up the flag, take a deep breath and tell her father. And for Toula, it just may be the hardest thing she's ever had to do in her life. Ian, meanwhile, is about to experience culture shock, as he is about to be confronted by a family that includes, for example, twenty-seven first cousins, something Ian isn't quite used to; after all, he has `two' of his own, and they live in another state.
The screenplay was written by star Nia Vardalos, adapted from her own one-woman show, and it fell into capable hands when she turned it over to director Joel Zwick, who picks up the rhythms and the `sense' of the story without missing a beat. Falling into step with his star, Zwick crafts and delivers a film that is totally immersed in the zest and zeal of living. Under his astute tutelage, the viewer becomes a part of Toula's life, sharing that grand heritage of which Gus is so proud. He brings the story and the characters to life with detail and nuance, and in such a way that your senses will kick into full throttle. The images he creates are so vivid, and it's such an engaging presentation, that the vitality he generates is almost tangible, and you can smell the lamb and all of those Greek delicacies cooking in the kitchen. And Zwick sets it all in motion by establishing a pace that will sweep you along with the story; a carousel ride that will keep you involved and smiling all the way to the end.
Nia Vardalos certainly captures the essence of all that is `Greek' with her story, and with her affecting performance as Toula. This is a young woman you get attached to very quickly; there's something of Benny, from `Circle of Friends' about her, as well as Muriel, from `Muriel's Wedding.' It's a character your heart goes out to immediately, one to whom you wish all good things will come. There is an introspection to her portrayal that contrasts effectively with her vigorously outgoing environment, and it makes her presence all the more dominating and singular. And it's actually in the reserve Vardalos exhibits in her character that the viewer finds the way inside to Toula's deepest longings and emotions. Without question, this is a complex individual, in whom we find not only the strength necessary to maintain autonomy (which she manages to do within the greater structure of her family), but vulnerability born of the respect she demonstrates toward her father, her family and the traditions they so lovingly serve. It is this very complexity, in fact, that elicits the necessary empathy of the audience, enabling that vital connection between the viewer and Toula. And Nia Vardalos IS Toula, from the ground up and from the inside out. Moreover, one would be hard put to discern any distinction whatsoever between the actor and her character, as her performance is entirely natural and genuine.
As Toula's mother, Maria, Lainie Kazan is a delight. The character she creates is totally credible, and she's just a joy to watch. And the same can be said of Andrea Martin's performance as Aunt Voula. This is a VERY Greek woman who is boisterous, overtly self-assured, opinionated and dominant; and she will win you over in an instant. It is Maria and Voula that add some real spice to the film, and when you add in Gia Carides (who plays Nikki) to the mix, you've got a Greek feast fit for the gods.
Of all the actors in this wonderful cast, however, the one who absolutely steals `My Big Fat Greek Wedding,' is Michael Constantine, who has the role of his career in Gus, and without question, makes the most of it. From his overabundance of Greek pride to his many and varied personal peccadilloes (like his ever-present bottle of Windex, which he is convinced can cure everything from a minor scrape to the common cold), he simply gives the performance of a lifetime; and if there is any justice in the whole `Greek' world, Constantine-- and this film-- will be duly remembered at Oscar time. It's the magic of the movies. 10/10.
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