My Life in Ruins (PG-13)
What we have here is a big fat crying shame. I like Nia Vardalos. I like how her 2002 My Big Fat Greek Wedding became a surprise hit by refusing to give in to certain Hollywood expectations that women larger than a size two don't exist, and wouldn't be worthy of or interested in love and sex even if they did exist.
So it pains me to say that My Life in Ruins — which is all, "OMG, that girl from My Big Fat Greek Wedding gets to go to Greece at last!" — is a steaming pile of stereotypes and sitcomery. If you were unlucky enough to have caught an episode of the TV spinoff from Wedding, unimaginatively dubbed My Big Fat Greek Life, then you already have a general idea of what Ruins looks like: It's the ruined version of what could have been a simple but charming movie.
Ruins is populated by adults who behave like moronic children, its idea of humor is embarrassing, and it's overrun by the tedious concept that any woman who's dissatisfied with her life must simply need to get laid. Ruins thinks it's sooo naughty, presenting Vardalos' uptight Georgia as a heroine who just needs to cut loose to see all her other problems disappear.
What I see is a story written by a man who sees women only as Hollywood has sold them to him. I expected better from screenwriter Mike Reiss — who has contributed to such subversive TV series as The Simpsons, The Critic, It's Garry Shandling's Show, and Sledge Hammer! — so who knows where he came up with this rude, annoying American trying to find herself in Greece.
The joke is supposed to be, you see, that she views the people on the tour groups she leads as rude and annoying. Except that, as the script dictates and as director Donald Petrie portrays it, the group Georgia finds herself saddled with really are proudly dumb, proudly ignorant, and proudly indulgent of the worst stereotypes: the Americans are obnoxious, the Australians are rowdy drinkers, the Brits are snobbish, et cetera.
If Georgia really were the brainy, knowledgeable academic she's supposed to be, she'd know that there are tour groups that specialize in precisely the kind of intellectual tourism she seeks, and she'd dump the mental midgets she's squiring, who don't want to hear about ancient gods or architecture, but just want to shop and hang at the beach.
But then there'd be no "funny" movie, and no easy resolution to Georgia's ennui. There'd be a subversive, think-y movie instead, and maybe Georgia would fall for the shy professorial type rather than the —
Well, I won't "ruin" it for you, in case you haven't already seen the trailer, which pretty much tells you the whole movie. But know this: Petrie is sort of a Ghost of Bad Romantic Comedies Past. He is responsible for such reprehensibleness as Miss Congeniality (smart, sensible FBI agent Sandra Bullock is forced to go undercover at a beauty pageant, and discovers the real meaning of womanhood lies in waxing and blowing every dollar you have on clothes and makeup) and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (which may be the most anti-woman, anti-man, anti-relationship movie ever made). And the director has not redeemed himself here.
The striking colors and textures are reminiscent of Southern Colorado and New Mexico. Lovely work.