starring Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Lainie Kazan, Michael Constantine, Gia Carides Joey Fatone and Andrea Martin
written by Nia Vardalos
directed by Joel Zwick
This is a romantic comedy - probably my favorite kind of movie - written by Nia Vardalos, who also stars in it. The title in Japan is “My Big Fat Family,” - another disappointing mangling of English. A good film, playing with the problems of a couple in a cross-cultural relationship, and poking endless fun at cultural faux pas. Tom Hanks was one of the producers.
The story involves a Greek/American family that remains very insular, always identifying itself as “Greek” rather than as “American” or “Greek/American.” Maybe it is an accurate portrayal, but personally I found it a stretch of the imagination to accept the degree of separation from mainstream, integrated American life that the Portocalas family in the film exhibited. But the degree of separation is necessary to exaggerate and cast in relief the cross-cultural situations that the story is making fun of.
Fortula Portocalas is a 30-something single Greek woman still living in her parents’ Chicago home, working as a waitress (seating hostess) in the family restaurant (Dancing Zorba’s). Her father, Gus (Michael Constantine), is an over-the-top, gushing Greek patriot, and the fact that his children were born and raised in Chicagonever diminishes his claim that they are ‘Greek.’ Michael Constantine is superb, I think, and it is his role as the traditional patriarch, with traditional Hellenistic family values, that sets up so much of the comedy in the film.
But the one thing above all others that made me rent this video was Andrea Martin’s name in the credits. Of course, Andrea Martin is a Canadian from Toronto. She became famous acting in SCTV when it was being filmed in Toronto, appearing with the likes of John Candy, Rick Moranis, Martin Short, Eugene Levy and Dave Thomas. Since SCTV, she has never landed a leading role in anything, but she keeps popping up in supporting roles all over the place, and is usually excellently funny. I like it when I am surprised by her appearance and I can shout excitedly, “Hey, it’s Andrea Martin!” In My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Martin almost steals the show away from the performances of Michael Constantine (Gus), and Nia Vardalos (Fortula), as Fortula’s Aunt Voula. She is a treasure on the screen.
Fortula falls in love with Ian Miller, a xeno, an Anglo-Saxon foreigner, a school teacher played by John Corbett. Personally, I do not like John Corbett. I have seen him in other things, and I just don’t like the way he moves and talks, his face and his hair. Oh, well. In love, Fortula is transformed from a frumpy-looking spinster into an attractive young woman, like in a fairy tale. But her choice of boyfriend rubs the family - especially Gus - the wrong way. Of course, he wants her to be happy, “get married, have babies,” and even considers sending her to Greece to find a mate. In the end, Ian undergoes adult baptism in the Greek Orthodox Church (a hilarious scene involving olive oil rather than mere water) to pacify the father, and Gus reluctantly is forced to accept his new son-in-law. His speech at the wedding reception - I hope it is a parody of Greekness - is fantastic, like completely alien creatures come together in one room.
It is a comedy about clashing ethnic values in modern American culture. Maybe it is a statement about women’s liberation as well, as Fortula emerges in her 30s from under the shadow of her domineering father. Maybe Greek families really are so fiercely insular. If it is true, then it feels scary. I am participating in a cross-cultural marriage myself, but my experience is nothing like what goes on between Gus and Ian.