My Big Fat Greek Wedding

on April 19, 2002 by Sheri Linden
   Amiable and unexceptional, like its central couple, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is a decidedly lightweight romance that feels better suited to the Lifetime channel than the bigscreen. This ugly duckling's journey to blushing bride is not so much a love story as a valentine to an exuberant extended clan. Based on the one-woman show of the same name by "Second City" alumna Nia Vardalos, who scripted and stars here, the film offers some sweet and silly moments but never manages to transcend its familiar setups and overriding blandness.

   Toula is a 30-year-old frump who works in her family's Chicago restaurant and suffers her father's perpetual fretting over her unmarried status. While her sister and 27 cousins dutifully breed more little Greeks, Toula enrolls in a local college, trades in her oversize glasses for contacts, and instantly ratchets up her self-confidence. Almost as quickly as our heroine effects this transformation, the story's promise of an incisive look at Old World values devolves into a less-than-engaging road to the altar. Toula and Ian (John Corbett), a handsome, earnest teacher, meet cute--too cute--and their love progresses through a series of uninspired dates. There's the inevitable showdown with her Greco-centric father (Michael Constantine), the inevitable acceptance of the "foreign" groom and his ultra-WASP parents, and the inevitable titular celebration, which is by far the most dynamic section of the film.

   Under Joel Zwick's lackluster direction, the humor mostly comes across as too broad or simply flat. Corbett fits the bill as the too-good-to-be-true nice guy, and Vardalos is an unconventional, if not entirely assured, screen presence, but other than their culture clash, there's not much going on between Toula and Ian. While vets Constantine, Lainie Kazan and Andrea Martin are a joy to watch as elders of the family, only Martin rises above the material's stock characters. The story is never compelling because every would-be dramatic tension is defused almost as soon as it arises. However heartwarming the payoff, it doesn't compensate for a central lack of urgency. Starring Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin, Gia Carides and Joey Fatone. Directed by Joel Zwick. Written by Nia Vardalos. Produced by Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman. An IFC release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG for sensuality and language. Running time: 99 min

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