The whole brash and bold Portokalos family is back for more of the larger than life hijinks in a world where everyone has a little bit of Greek in them. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, released in 2002, became the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time.
Nia Vardalos wrote the screenplay for the film but couldn’t get her script read. In an effort to secure an agent, she mounted the material on stage as a solo show. Actress Rita Wilson saw the play and liked it so much that she asked her husband, Tom Hanks, and his business partner, Gary Goetzman, to see it. The rest, as the saying goes, is Greek history. Resonating with young and old alike, My Big Fat Greek Wedding became a touchstone in the genre. Despite its success, a sequel wasn’t an immediate priority for Vardalos. She was privately struggling to become a parent. There was, however, happiness to come.
In April 2013, she went public in her New York Times bestseller “Instant Mom”. That chronicled how she and her husband, Ian Gomez, met and adopted their three-year-old daughter via foster care … with only 14 hours’ notice. Since she had waited a decade to become a parent, Vardalos threw herself into every aspect of the joys of motherhood. She tried to do it all – from finely chopping genetically modified-free vegetables for daily homemade soups to making handmade costumes. On the first day of her daughter’s kindergarten, Vardalos says she was crying heavily at the idea of her daughter starting school. In an effort to calm her, another mother remarked: “In 13 years, they’ll go off to college and move away from home.’”
It was then and there that the writer/performer got the idea for the sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Vardalos was struck by such panic and fear at the thought of her daughter leaving her that she realised she had morphed into her own overbearing, bordering-on-suffocating, Greek parent. Vardalos immediately started writing, imagining what family life was like a decade after we last saw the Portokaloses.
While still in love, she saw Toula and Ian as grappling with what all married couples raising a teenager struggle to have: balance between time with their child and time with each other. So, Toula and Ian’s relationship has lost some of its spark, while their 17-year-old daughter Paris is deeply frustrated by the weight of expectation. She is not content to be relegated to everyone’s thoughts of what constitutes a good Greek girl. Toula is also dealing with aging parents, the irrepressible Maria and cantankerous Gus, who have a dark secret that is quickly shared with the whole family and propels the story forward. In short, Ian and Toula are struggling with some of the same issues her parents faced in the first film, namely how do you love and still let go?
Nia Vardalos is Toula and John Corbett her husband, Ian. Lainie Kazan and Michael Constantine are her parents, Maria and Gus, with Fiona Reid and Bruce Gray his parents, Harriet and Rodney. The returning ensemble includes Gia Carides as cousin Nikki, Joey Fatone as cousin Angelo, Louis Mandylor as Toula’s protective brother Nick and Bess Meisler as Mana-Yiayia, the family matriarch. Stavroula Logothettis is Athena, Nick and Toula’s older sister and Andrea Martin features as the irrepressible aunt Voula.
Among those new to the My Big Fat Greek Wedding family are Elena Kampouris (Men, Women & Children) as Paris, Toula and Ian’s headstrong 17-year-old daughter and Alex Wolff (The Sitter) as Bennett, the object of Paris’ affection. Rita Wilson and John Stamos also feature as a new “Greek” family in town.
The movie is directed by Kirk Jones, who has made his career out of exploring familial relationships in such beloved films as Nanny McPhee and Waking Ned Devine. None of the fun, the colour and the mayhem of this close-knit family that know each other’s business have been lost. That is made easier because they literally live side by side, that is next door to one another. For the many moviegoers who saw the opening chapter, it will feel like slipping on a comfortable pair of old slippers. The lustre of first pulling them out of the box all shiny and new may no longer be there, but the familiarity brings with it comfort.
The characters are all so nice, led so ably by the wholesome and beautiful Vardalos – she with that gorgeous smile and pearly white teeth. We shouldn’t overlook the fact that Vardalos can script a story without a villain and still retain its charm. That, in itself, is quite an art form. While she continues to shine in Greek Wedding 2, aunt Voula too remains a driving force and is afforded some of the best lines. As for Mana-Yiayia, she may remain silent for much of the film, but she wanders in and out of frame as the script dictates and steals almost every scene she is in.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 may not set the world on fire, but it remains the charmer that made the original such a global success. My only concern in terms of box office receipts for this one is that filmmaking has stepped up a gear since the first one and modern audiences demand more. Will this be enough for the new generation? Rated PG, it scores a 6½ to 7 out of 10.
Director: Kirk Jones
Cast: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Lainie Kazan, Gia Carides, Joey Fatone, Elena Kampouris, Alex Wolff, Louis Mandylor
Rating: PG – Mild sexual references
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television