My Big Fat Not-As-Advertised Tom Hanks Movie Review
Ah, yes: The Road To Perdition. Acclaimed. Visually ravishing. Already being tipped as next year's Oscar-bait. And, of course, not showing on any cinema screens within a thirty mile radius of my house. Now having undertaken to deliver a review of a hard-hitting, successful, Tom Hanks movie about immigrant culture in America, I would normally at this point be up a certain creek without a certain implement - but not this week! Because, spookily enough, this week also saw the release of Joel Zwick's My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which Mr 'Ask Me To Make An Acceptance Speech And I Go A Bit Loopy' happens to be producing! It's successful! It's got immigrants in it! It's hard-hitting!
Well, actually, it isn't the last one, because MBFGW (if you think I'm writing that title out in full every time, boy, have you got the wrong columnist) is the soppiest, cosiest thing ever seen, it's as soppy and cosy as big soppy puppy with extra cosy fluffy puppy hair on it. It's being promoted as a comedy, but it isn't really: there are a lot of jokes in it, but also lots of stuff solely intended to make you go 'Aaaaahhhh!' and feel all warm and life-affirmed.
Nia Vardalos (who also wrote the script) plays Toula Portokalos, a thirty-year-old, rather dowdy woman who works in her family's restaurant. Her family is huge, extremely Greek, and demented, and all of these things are significant to the plot. Her father Gus (Michael Constantine) wants her to marry a nice Greek boy and start producing Greek grandchildren as soon as possible, and keeps telling her encouraging things like 'You know, you're starting to look old.' Anyway, apropos of nothing much Toula de-dowdifies herself (with almost indecent haste, I thought), goes back to college, and gets a job in her aunt's travel agency.
Here she meets Ian, a vegetarian, mullet-wearing, English teacher (played by John Corbett, whom elderly readers may remember as Chris the DJ in Northern Exposure). As he is such a sensitive, caring, witty guy (yup, this is one of the soppy bits) she falls for him in fairly short order. But whatever will the family say? How will Gus cope with his daughter wanting to marry a WASPish wimp like this guy? How far will Ian go to ingratiate himself with the family?
Well, first things first: MBFGW is a hugely likeable, entertaining movie, which is what you probably want to know. As I mentioned up the page, this isn't a flat-out comedy as such, but when the jokes come they're extremely funny ones, and the film is so winningly good-natured that you're inclined to laugh at even the weaker material. Surprisingly, given she wrote her own part, Vardalos has relatively little to do - which is possibly just as well as she only appears to have three facial expressions (joyfully aglow, angst-ridden, and - my favourite - paralysed with horror at the family's latest stunt) which she deploys in fairly strict rotation. (She will win at least one Oscar next year.) But there are great comic turns from the rest of the cast - Constantine and Corbett, most obviously, but also Lainie Kazan and Louis Mandylor as Toula's mother and brother. You will enjoy this movie unless you're a cynic to the very core.
Even so I feel kind of obliged to deploy my critical facilities, even though it goes against every decent instinct to do so. This feels like dissecting a live kitten, but... you could argue that this is a rather cynical piece of film-making, in that there's very little here that's actually original. Take away all the bazouki music and roast lamb, and insert Sicilian folk dancing and spaghetti and you'd have My Big Fat Italian Wedding: almost exactly the same film, but with a lot less novelty value. The plot is made up of equal chunks of (for example) Bend It Like Beckham (girl from patriarchal culture defies family to pursue the love of her life), Muriel's Wedding (ugly duckling blossoms and finds love) and Father of the Bride (aren't weddings hilarious).
Just because something seems cynical doesn't mean it is, and I suspect I'm rather more wont to criticise MBFGW simply because it's been in the US box office top ten for the last five months without a break. It'll be interesting to see if this success is repeated internationally - it may just be down to the current perturbed state of the American national psyche, or a result of the USA's positive approach to multiculturalism (let's face it, if we in the UK made a film about our immigrant population right now it'd probably be called My Big Fat Race Riot). Personally, I wish it well - if nothing else its success would prove that there's still a place on the big screen for simple, good-natured entertainment, and I don't think anyone can take too much umbrage at that.